My politics are very different from Jordan Peterson’s, but like many people I was engrossed by his recent interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman (the interview can also be found here). In my case, at least, it was less because of what was said than because of the nature of the encounter.
If comments under the interview suggest anything, the video went viral chiefly because the right believe it shows their man – Peterson – intellectually crushing a so-called “hard-left feminist” like Newman. In fact, it proves nothing of the sort – more the misogyny of some of Peterson’s fans.
Here is an ideological duel between a sophisticated brand of the libertarian right and a corporate – aka faux – left-liberalism, represented by Newman. The pair, in their commitment to an aggressive individualism within a neoliberal system, have far more in common with each other than they do with a real left. I suspect Peterson would have struggled considerably more to justify his positions had he come up against someone like Noam Chomsky rather than Newman.
Nonetheless, the interview revealed something deeply troubling about what passes today for a news interview, and about the role of journalists. Here were two people talking at each other. This was mostly shadow play, rarely moving beyond shallow ideological posturing.
That is the standard format for news interviews, and one of the main reasons why the news in western democracies is so unenlightening.
Peterson, one should remember, had no choice about the nature of the gladiatorial contest presented to him in Channel 4’s studio, and manages it as well as could be expected in the circumstances.
More importantly, at least from the audience’s point of view, he succeeds – much as does Glenn Greenwald in similar interviews – in stripping away the artifice and exposing the nature of the stitch-up that is the rationale for an interview like this. For once, this was not a wasted half-hour of airtime.
Both Peterson and Greenwald are clever and skilful enough interviewees to refuse to be dragged onto a field of battle that has been designed to mock them and their kinds of politics.
Instead they drag the interviewer onto a different battlefield, one where the journalist feels deeply uncomfortable and powerless – usually because they are forced to respond to political ideas that are entirely off their radar, ideas that are not supposed to be part of the media landscape of which they are part. (Of course, Peterson’s politics finds more of a home in the US, where sections of the media tack much further to the right, than in Britain.)
Newman’s agonising loss for words after Peterson points out her hypocrisy – her visibly floundering around for an answer – suggests not so much that he is right but how little she has, or needs, to examine the premises of her worldview, a neoliberal, simplistic identity-politics she has absorbed as her own.
In the 12-min video below, Peterson tries to deconstruct the interview he was subjected to, and makes some excellent points. But one thing he fails to make explicit is that his success in foiling Newman’s approach derived from the fact that he has, as he observes, spent “tens of thousands of hours” in clinical practice as a psychologist.
As he points out, that helped him in part to detach from the interview as it was happening. He treats Newman effectively as a hostile patient, devising strategies to stop her relentless efforts to create strawmen and mischaracterise his views. Few other interviewees are likely to have such skills.
The danger of a Greenwald or Peterson interview is that they are able briefly to tear off the mask of the media placemen and women whose job is to create diversionary entertainment – the modern equivalent of bread and circuses – to keep our minds off the globe-spanning crimes and catastrophes, the wars and climate meltdown, promoted by the corporate system that employs them.
Rather than watch Peterson being fed to the lions, as was supposed to happen, we see the strings of the marionette interviewer, the ideological agent there to enforce a consensus. That is good TV for us, and very bad TV for the corporations.
Channel 4 didn’t waste much time. They have blocked the video providing Peterson’s analysis, on the pretext of copyright violations, because it uses very short excerpts from the original interview to illustrate Peterson’s points. Those excerpts should be treated as “fair use”. This offers further confirmation of my argument above: this was very bad TV for the corporate media.
Another, longer version is available (for the moment) below. The relevant segment is the start of the interview – the first half hour or so.