The pattern is unmistakable in both the UK and US – and I apologise for sounding like a stuck record. Liberal mainstream media prove over and over again their aversion to telling us the news straight. They conspire – I can think of no fairer word – with the political elites in Washington and London to spin and subvert stories damaging to their mutual interests, even when the facts are driving real events in an entirely different direction.
A perfect illustration is the story of the Democratic party’s leaked emails, which reveal that the national leadership was actively seeking to swing the primaries battle in Hillary Clinton’s favour by harming Bernie Sanders. One leaked email (there are more to come, apparently) shows officials trying to highlight Sanders’ “faith” – it is unclear whether the goal was to play up his Jewishness or his supposed atheism, or both.
As Sanders says, this is “outrageous” activity by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), even if it is hardly surprising. He, and we, knew it was happening during the primaries, even if it wasn’t being reported, just as we know the British parliamentary Labour party has been trying to undermine its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, since he was elected last summer, even if everyone denies it. The difference with the Democratic party scandal is we now have the proof.
It is worth examining the Guardian’s coverage of this affair. It’s like a masterclass in Pravda-style journalism – and entirely illustrative of how the Guardian is not reporting news but framing debates to protect its political interests: they have been rock solid behind the status-quo candidacy of Clinton rather than Sanders (“let’s focus on the fact she’s woman rather than that she’s the spokeswoman for the military-industrial complex”), just as they seem ready to back anyone for British PM as long as it’s not Jeremy Corbyn, including Theresa May.
The DNC email leak story broke badly for the Guardian, with the first reports arriving Sunday UK time, when the paper does not publish. A bland Associated Press report appears to be the first time the story runs on its website, too early for responses from the main actors.
The first report by the Guardian’s own correspondent, Alan Yuhas, and the one in today’s newspaper, includes responses both from the Clinton team and from Sanders. But the Clinton response does not just get a mention, it dictates the entire theme of the Guardian story: that the leaks themselves are of little consequence. The real story, apparently, is an unproven and deflectionary claim by the Clinton camp that Russia is behind the leak. The headline says it all: “Hillary Clinton campaign blames leaked DNC emails about Sanders on Russia”.
This is exactly what the Clinton team wanted: for the media to focus on her phoney outrage rather than our justified outrage that the party system is rigged to make sure ordinary voters cast their ballots the way the Democrat leadership want them cast.
The story itself does not tell us anything about the leaks until the sixth paragraph. Before that we have lots of Clinton camp indignation about Russia interfering in US domestic politics – as though this story is primarily yet another chance to knock Vladimir Putin and his supposed best pal, Donald Trump, Clinton’s chief rival for the presidency. Even when we finally reach mention of the leaks, they are glossed over, with it unclear what the substance of these emails was and why they are significant.
This is stenographic journalism that has become entirely the norm in the Guardian (if you don’t believe me, just scroll back through my blog posts to see more examples).
The real angle – the one that should have the been the focus of the story, at least based on news value – is buried near its end: Sanders’ demand that DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, should resign. That angle as the lead would have highlighted its true news interest: evidence of corrupt practices at the DNC. It would have allowed the Guardian to focus on the nature of the leaked emails rather get sidetracked into Clinton’s anti-Russia spiel.
Proof that this was the real news story is confirmed by the fact that, soon after the Guardian published its report, Wasserman Schultz did in fact resign. The real scandal, rather than the Washington spin, finally cornered the Guardian very belatedly to run the story online in a more realistic fashion.
The fact that it took more than 24 hours and three attempts before the story was reported in a way any first-year journalism student would understand it had to be covered is not to the Guardian’s credit. It is to its shame. This was a desperate damage limitation operation by the Clinton camp that was (yet again) actively supported and assisted by the Guardian.
Social media is changing many things. But one of the clearest examples is in the way it is bypassing mainstream media gatekeepers like the Guardian and allowing the facts to speak for themselves.