‘Post-truth’ is nothing new. We need reporters to cover working class realities

Bubble politics spread lies about austerity. Hacks must get their feet dirty

 

There’s much talk of ‘post-truth politics’ as if it were the sole creation of social media and fake news websites.

This is misleading, because the mainstream media – and in particular the prominence given to Westminster correspondents – is itself partly to blame.

I’m prompted to say this by Tom Crewe’s superb account of the Tories destruction of local government.

Austerity is not merely an abstract policy, but causes real damage in the form of closures of libraries and Sure Start centres, cuts to bus routes and increased homelessness.

And to this we could add worse flood defences, less care for the elderly and disabled and increased likelihood of prison riots.

It’s in this context that Westminster political reporting is positively dangerous.

In presenting politics as a ‘he says, she says’ knockabout, the ground truth of real damage to real people is overlooked, and instead it becomes merely a matter of abstract debate.

George Osborne managed to present himself as being on the side of devolution because he talked so much about the ‘Northern powerhouse’. But the reality of big cuts to local government meant he was in fact a centralizer.

Post-truth Westminster correspondents who listened to words rather than looked at ground truth let him get away with this.

This trend, of course, contains a vicious class bias. ‘He says, she says’ reporting tends to be deferential towards those in power.

This isn’t just because they have better-resourced PR departments but also because, as Adam Smith said, there’s a ‘disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful’.

Such reporting also favours those with superficial charm and over-confidence – traits more likely to be possessed by men from rich backgrounds such as Cameron and Farage. And of course in giving a voice to Westminster politicians, the voices of people on the ground are not heard.

All of this is to support Paul Mason who says:

One of the most pitiful things about the political class…is their distance from the actual experience of work.

A media which paid more attention to the ground truth of workplace coercion, wage stagnation and casualization would give us a better understanding of strikes than “he says, she says” debates between partisans. But this is absent in post-truth reporting.

What I’m appealing for here is for journalists (and economists) to get their shoes dirty, to look for facts on the ground rather than quotes from ‘senior sources’ who are themselves often ignorant or careless of ground truth; in fairness, many do so – though I suspect these tend to the less well-paid reporters.

(I know, I risk the charge of ‘physician, heal thyself’ here. But I like to think that in my day job I don’t confuse getting a quote from a fund manager with pursuing the truth.)

It’s people like Kate Belgrave and projects likeMigrant Voice or Unpaid Britain we should listen to more than empty suits and gobshite columnists. Remember the original and correct meaning of Raymond Wolfinger’s words: ‘the plural of anecdote IS data.’

All of this, however, is a long way from a lot of the journalism we get.

Chris Dillow is an economist and blogs at Stumbling and Mumbling 

See: Dear Sajid Javid: Here’s a draft ‘oath of allegiance’ to British values

6 Responses to “‘Post-truth’ is nothing new. We need reporters to cover working class realities”

  1. GodfreyR

    People are not as stupid as the writer seems to think they are. Most people are aware of the inequalities and injustices of our society and understand why and how they occur. They can see through the flood of ‘news’ that hits us everyday. They know the biases of the various news organisations and media outlets and they use their everyday commonsense to make their minds up.

    Remember most people are not political junkies who read and post on websites like this, they’ve got better things to do with their lives. However, they know when the metropolitian political establishment is trying to pull the wool over their eyes and respond appropriately, as they did on 23rd June 2016.

  2. NHSGP

    £400,000 of government debt per tax payer.

    £108,000 is the value of the state pension

    Money that Mr Median wage could have had if the state hadn’t taken their wealth and spent it / redistributed it.

    £800,000

    The cause of inequality and injustice is pretty much down to the state.

    After all, why would you hide the state’s pension debts off the books?

  3. Cole

    Well Godfrey, the people do seem to have been conned by the elite into voring the way they did on 23rd June. Do you really thinks Boris, Gove, Rees Mogg etc aren’t members of the elite? And that Brexit wasn’t funded by a small bunch of right wing zillionaires to further their personal and ideological interests? It’s pretty obvious the losers from Brexit will be ordinary people.

    It’s worth remembering that around two thirds of Labour voters backed Remain, and that it was Tory and UKIP voters that were dedicated supporters of Leave.

  4. GodfreyR

    Most Labour constituencies voted to leave the EU !!!

    The metropolitan establishment’s Remain campaign ‘Project Fear’ has now been utterly discredited. It is the finest example of post-truth political fake news of modern times and the people saw it for what it was – a pack of downright lies.

  5. Anon

    @Cole

    So why did the majority of the Labour party line up alongside the bankers and corporates to keep the UK in the EU – if we are going to make this a ‘class’ argument.

    The people are not blind – for “Boris, Gove, Rees Mogg”, read Cameron, Osborne, Mandelson, Blair, Morgan Sachs etc.

    And this “ordinary person” is absolutely delighted to leave the EU – you must speak for yourself.

    Labour member support for staying in the EU is thrown into doubt by the huge majority of Labour seats that voted to leave the EU – the reputed loss of five million Labour voters over recent years could give us a clue; either that, or we have a lot of Labour ‘shy Leavers’.

  6. David Lindsay

    Fake news is of very real concern. There have been seven recessions in the United Kingdom since the Second World War. Five of them have been under Conservative Governments. That party has also presided over all four separate periods of Quarter on Quarter fall in growth during the 2010s. By contrast, there was no recession on the day of the 2010 General Election. And now, the Conservatives have more than doubled the National Debt. The Major Government also doubled the National Debt. Yet the Conservatives’ undeserved reputation for economic competence endures. They are subjected to absolutely no scrutiny by the fake news detractors of their opponents.

    Other examples of fake news include the official versions of events in relation to Orgreave, Westland, and Hillsborough. All manner of claims made by, or in support of, the Clintons. The alleged murder of 100,000 military age males in Kosovo. The existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and their capacity for deployment within 45 minutes. Saddam Hussein’s feeding of people into a giant paper shredder, and his attempt to obtain uranium from Niger. An imminent genocide in Benghazi, Gaddafi’s feeding of Viagra to his soldiers in order to encourage mass rape, and his intention to flee to Venezuela. An Iranian nuclear weapons programme. And Assad’s gassing of Ghouta, as if that were an undisputed fact. In every case, that was fake news. Or, in plain English, lies.

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