How does a partisan press mislead the public and distort an election? Watch this conversation between Cenk Uygur and Bernie Sanders on The Young Turks

Bernie Sanders being interviewed about corporate media's partisan distortions of the truth by Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks, 23 March 2016

Bernie Sanders being interviewed about corporate media’s partisan distortions of the truth by Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks, 23 March 2016

Partisan press = blinkered vision + distorted facts Reichenau Island, 2011, by postgutenberg@gmail.com -- Originally posted on this blog on 5 May 2013

Partisan press = blinkered vision + distorted facts
Reichenau Island, 2011, by postgutenberg@gmail.com
— Originally posted on this blog on 5 May 2013

 

Weakening the capacity of the proudly partisan old media establishment to undermine democracy has been one of this blog’s causes from the start. In 2013, we collected a few of our posts about the evils of a blinkered — and blinkering — partisan press in one entry in post-Gutenberg.com during a British debate on the subject:

How Lord Justice #Leveson let down everyone who cares about the practice of journalism ‘without fear or favour’

We do not have a vote in U.S. elections. But, following the drama as closely as we can — like anyone anywhere on the globe not buried in a cave with abysmal wifi reception — we were delighted by the proof, in a superb half-hour interview, of exactly how influential old media are warping their depictions of Bernie Sanders and his campaign:

Will judge Leveson become one of history’s heroes not for debugging and democratising the British press but his own profession — law and the courts?

This conclusion of a communityaustralia.org.au report http://www.communitylawaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/CLA_Report_Final.pdf in 2012 is actually true everywhere in the English-speaking world -- image modified by postgutenberg@gmail.com

The conclusion of a 2012 Community Law Australia report is actually true everywhere in the English-speaking world
— image modified by postgutenberg@gmail.com

[ This is a long post — ‘Many cups of coffee!’ as Manne, a Finnish friend, once warned us in a preface to a letter. ]

We have been surprised to notice that an important but cautiously worded public lecture in London last November by the British judge so far referred to in this spot as Lord Justice Leveson has attracted almost no media attention. Our regular readers will remember that Leveson LJ — now correctly called Sir Brian Leveson, or LevesonP in legal shorthand, after a promotion (see footnote**) — led a government-ordered inquiry into the workings and ethics of the British press nearly five years ago.

Remarks at the start of this exercise by the Lord Chief Justice who appointed Leveson LJ to his inquisitorial post led some of us to hope that, at the inquiry’s end, the judge’s most famous prescription for improving Fourth Estate ethics and objectivity would be to open up journalism to wider public participation. In other words, that he would push for a democratisation of the press as radical as the mass dissemination of knowledge and learning that Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press permitted — not overnight or even in 50 years, but eventually, a point made in our last post.

Exactly why the inquiry failed to yield any such recommendation in spite of the strong nudge from the Lord Chief Justice is unclear. The most interesting possibility is the threat by enraged senior editors and journalists, as well as newspaper proprietors, to turn the tables and demand an equally alarming and humiliating investigation of lawyers and the legal establishment. In the lingering press anger about the judicial probe in 2013, one columnist, (Sir**) Simon Jenkins — a former editor of The Times and The Economistbarked that ‘Lawyers should stick to the law.’ One year earlier, as the Leveson hearings were in full, addictive sway, he noted that ‘Judges consider themselves institutionally beyond correction,’ adding delectably, ‘As for the fee-fiddling, court-delaying, job-sharing, ambulance-chasing antics of the legal profession, you will wait for Doomsday for a judge-led inquiry into that.’

Well, LevesonP might yet rise to the Jenkins challenge. On 12 November, speaking about the early stages of ‘substantial reform’ to ‘secure an efficient and effective justice system … fit for the 21st century,’ Sir Brian said that ‘Information technology is likely to provide the means by which we can do so.’ He spoke of a future with more frequent resolutions of legal disputes ‘other than by trial’; of ‘the development of an online court’; and of an ‘IT dependant system through which the courts can manage disputes so that they can be resolved appropriately.’

Ah. Appropriately. A careful, neutral word chosen by a supremely cautious justice, a signal understatement of the death blows that digitisation and sweeping procedural changes could deal the anciently entrenched customs and culture of lawyers and the legal system. The effects of these transformations, not just in Britain, will fall mainly into two wide, linked categories:

LAWYER-FREE LITIGATION

The richest countries in the English-speaking world have in common the lamentation encapsulated in Australia with the graphic above highlighting the dismaying fact recorded by Community Law Australia that ‘Repeated government and Parliamentary inquiries over the past decade have recognised that the legal system is out of reach for many Australians.’ That is stunning in a country whose people rank as the world’s wealthiest, or nearly so; a country famous for its militantly egalitarian ‘tall poppy syndrome’ culture, and surpassed only by the US in the availability of lawyers (357 vs. 391 per 100,00 people in the late ‘00s, according to a 2010 Harvard Law School study).

As for the US, in a joint contribution to The New York Times in 2010 titled ‘A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers,’ the chief justices of California — the US state with the world’s largest court system — and New Hampshire invited ‘members of the legal profession to join with us [in] making unbundled legal services and other innovative solutions — like self-help Web sites, online assistance programs and court self-help centers — work for all who need them.’

The legal profession’s incandescent reaction — across the globe — to all such proposals has been put bluntly by an antipodean judge at the highest tier, Deputy Chief Justice Faulks of the Family Court of Australia, who does not consider it a response to be condoned or indulged:

Most judges tend to couple the word self-represented litigant (SRL) with an expletive. It is customary to regard them as difficult, time-consuming, unreasonable, and ignorant of processes of the law. … [C]ourts should regard self-representation by litigants as a challenge rather than as a problem. … Self-representation has reached a level in many courts where it is common for at least one of the parties to be unrepresented for one half of the time. This means that courts are no longer dealing with a minority aberration but are being obliged to contend with change which may require altering the way in which courts operate.

TRANSPARENCY: LETTING THE PUBLIC SEE WHAT REALLY HAPPENS IN LITIGATION

Idealistic and naïve non-lawyers, litigation virgins who have always thought of trials and court procedures as instruments for uncovering the truth in any legal battle, are in for a rude shock when they get enmeshed in an actual case. Honest judges will explain that a trial is not a quest for truth. Why is this a fact of which even highly educated people are mostly ignorant? Most litigation, especially civil litigation — which has no celebrity murderers or Scott Turow thrillers about corrupt judges to supply education-by-entertainment — happens in the dark, out of public view. No stranger to the process has any conception of the brutal details of how legal action commonly amounts to the licensed bullying of those with less money by those with more — or is capable of grasping the near-universal truth of what Chief Justice Faulks has said, with a symbolic illustration from Australian court procedure:

The legal profession is one which guards its turf jealously. To an SRL, being in a court room feels somewhat like being in an old-boys’ club where members of the club are speaking to each other in a strange language known only to them, where the members know each other quite well and are disparaging and discouraging of interlopers. … Most judges prefer to have a triangle of dialogue that involves a judge and two lawyers, preferably counsel, at the Bar table. In my opinion this is a perpetuation of the “old boys club”-like environment associated with litigation. … [I]f courts remind themselves that access to justice requires that it should be to all “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will” then it follows that we should place all of our processes, language, practices and assistance under the microscope of that access to justice

Simon Jenkins’ counterattack on lawyers and judges in the UK arose from fears about the endangerment — implicit in the inquiry’s remit — of the independence of the Fourth Estate; of its special privileges; and of its ability to restrict membership. In his Guardian column two months ago about technology forcing all professions to kneel before the transformation of their work by the internet — mostly, by demystifying their expertise and supplying open access to their tools and knowledge — he quoted Bernard Shaw’s trenchant take on the professions as ‘conspiracies against the laity’.

Doctors and lawyers were the chief focus of his commentary, which strangely made no mention of the need for traditional journalism to adapt to the arrival of ‘citizen journalists’ or ‘citizen bloggers’. Whether the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry have had or will in the future have any significant role at all in reshaping press practices is impossible to tell from our perch seven thousand miles away. The scant coverage of this subject by the British press is contradictory with, for instance, the Daily Mail implying last month that proceeding with the second stage of what was set as a two-part investigation would be an even bigger waste of resources, whereas the Independent drew attention to the new press watchdog to which the Inquiry gave birth, and said that it ‘has started to show its teeth’.

A LevesonP who sets an example with a more vigorous mucking-out of his own profession — which happens to be the one most successfully insulated from change — will be a judge for the ages. He certainly seems to have grasped the unfairness of a profession least affected, so far, by the digital juggernaut, imposing more revolutionary change on one so battered by internet publishing’s destruction of its economic viability that the most representative image of its state would be a stage strewn with corpses from which just a survivor or two limps away, in the final act of a tragedy.

Richard Susskind, the British judiciary’s principal adviser on digitisation for nearly 18 years, has been pegged by the American Bar Association as ‘far and away the best analyst and predictor of the evolution of the legal marketplace.’ His slender book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers, a model of concision, is gripping essential reading with a well-earned conclusion:

[T]he law is no more there to provide a living for lawyers than ill health exists to offer a livelihood for doctors. … [T]here is an opportunity to be involved in shaping the next generation of legal services. You will find most senior lawyers to be of little guidance in this quest. Your elders will tend to be cautious, protective, and conservative, if not reactionary. They will resist change … In truth, you are on your own. I urge you to forge new paths for the law, our most important social institution.

**In an exception to our usual practice of ignoring titles awarded in Britain’s honours system — in a blog written outside any national boundaries — we refer to him in this post as Sir Brian Leveson, though it was as Lord Justice Leveson that he supervised the hauling over the coals of some newspaper proprietors and editors who were undoubtedly burning him in effigy, out of sight, in revenge. We used that title in our posts about the Leveson Inquiry because it was not a so-called gong or decoration, but part of his job description. Though peers (‘Lord’) rank higher than knights (‘Sir’) in the hierarchy of honours, Sir Brian has not been demoted, since then: he was a Lord Justice simply because that is what judges of the Court of Appeal are called.

Explaining the reasons for that would call for an even lengthier exposition than if we were to try to explain why, since his elevation from that position to his new job as president of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, or Britain’s third most senior judge, he wears a black gown with a ‘short wig’ to hear criminal cases, but a ‘full wig’ on ceremonial occasions — when justices at the very top of the top, in the UK Supreme Court created just ten years ago, do not usually appear in gowns or wigs, but on ceremonial occasions, wear gowns but no wigs. (Impossible! you say? See the Wikipedia entries for Judiciary of England and Wales and Judiciaries of the United Kingdom.)

We are following law reporting practice when we refer to LevesonP, for shorthand.

Cooperatives: now, a famously right-wing ex-editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator emerges as an advocate of true sharing in the ownership of companies …

Joining Pope Francis, the influential, left-leaning author of Postcapitalism, Paul Mason, and the rap emperor Jay Z in proposing cooperatives as the most rational economic structure and best weapon against economic inequality, here is Charles Moore — a Margaret Thatcher biographer, right-wing journalist, and former editor of The Spectator and Daily Telegraph. He is so conservative that he converted to Roman Catholicism after the Church of England decided to permit the ordination of women priests. Where did he proclaim his love of a style of ownership that has led to muttering diagnoses of ill-advised Marxist tendencies in nearly everyone else who has — from the charismatic pontiff to the most undeniably obscure bloggers? In last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, no less, in a riveting argument quoting Karl himself — approvingly. Sections worthy of special note:

…There is clearly an unmet need for a politics that goes beyond mere grievance-peddling to develop a new way of thinking about what makes a society free and secure at the same time. If this were easy, we would have heard more of it by now, and I won’t pretend to have the answers. But certain basic principles seem like the proper foundation…

Take ownership much more seriously.

Why are so few companies owned by the people who work for them, and why do both liberal and conservative political parties not offer greater incentives, such as tax advantages, for this to change? It is extraordinary that the joint stock company, the foundation of modern commercial and industrial wealth, is still so little influenced by the views of shareholders.

This is perhaps most evident in the preposterous salaries paid, particularly in the U.S. and Britain, to top executives of public companies. If the owners of these companies truly exercised authority over what is theirs, this wouldn’t happen. If these enterprises had grown over the last 20 years at the same rate as pay for the men who run them (it usually still is men), no one would be talking of a crisis of capitalism.

Ownership of housing, stocks and pensions is an area where creativity has died. This failing of our consumer society may owe something to the baby boomers’ desire to “have it now,” but another part of the problem is that people are correctly no longer confident that what they save now will be available to them later. Savings need more long-term government protection than they receive in most Western societies. A business culture based on deals and bonuses means that the best business minds are not interested in saving.

The ideal of ownership also needs to apply more fully to civil society. It might be a good idea, for example, if citizens could establish ownership rights over their local school by becoming “members.” Under the existing arrangements, how much can parents and communities creatively affect what happens in schools? The charter-school movement in the U.S. and “academies” and “free schools” in Britain are working in the right direction but remain a long way from something citizens can feel they own.

These rights would give people a voice when things go wrong, rather as some congregations have a say in their churches. In Britain, there is an admirable and long-standing body called the Wine Society, wholly owned by its members with the sole purpose of getting them good wine at good prices. There could be some bold ideas about applying this principle to things so important that they can’t be bottled, such as health.

The Victorians were more imaginative than we are about principles of mutuality—credit unions, building societies, the cooperative movement. Such organizations feel creakier in an age when people want larger sums, faster. But is it really beyond the skill of our great modern business brains to develop these concepts and adapt them to modernity? Financial creativity, unfortunately, really has become the preserve of the few, for the few.

Three mini-master classes from traditional media to show the blogosphere how this journalism thingy is done

Wretched, pathetic bloggers! Most of them can’t be counted on to spell their own names right, let alone do anything remotely like fact-checking. Too much actual work! No sense of history. No understanding of – or attempt to understand – context, in their pseudo-journalism! How can they expect to be treated with the respect owed any halfway decent source of information without curbs on their typing and behaviour — vetting and supervision by editors, sub-editors, copy editors?

Ahem.

from Private Eye, (No: 1399, 21 August – 3 September), an item titled CORRECTION OF THE YEAR 1:

Our Magazine commemorative special ‘The reign never stops’ (last week) included a number of inaccuracies. The Queen acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, not February 8. She married the Duke of Edinburgh six years before her coronation, not four. Her eldest grandson is Peter Phillips, not Prince William. Her uncle, Edward VIII, was King when he abdicated, not Prince of Wales. The photograph of the Queen and Princess Anne at Balmoral shows them with Peter Phillips, not his sister Zara. The battleship HMS Vanguard was not converted into a royal yacht. It was temporarily adapted to take the royal family to South Africa in 1947 but reverted to normal service afterwards. We apologise for these errors.

The Sunday Times, 9 August 2015

… and on the facing page in the same issue, the arguably even more astounding CORRECTION OF THE YEAR 2 — from a sister newspaper:

Karol Wojtyla was referred to in Saturday’s Credo column as ‘the first non-Catholic pope for 450 years’. This should, of course, have read ‘non-Italian’. We apologise for the error.

The Times, 11 August 2015

Rich newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, with their armies of text-massagers, are not the only large media operations to give one pause. Still, the following correction by a senior staffer at the world’s greatest, undefeated world-champion broadcasting organisation could be the nicest mea culpa we have ever read — but do pass the paper tissues, our eyes are streaming …

from the Eye’s Media News column, (No: 1400, 4-17 September 2015):

The BBC’s local news bulletin South East Today was out in force at Biggin Hill to cover the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain on 18 August, closing its show with footage of the day’s flypast of Spitfires and Hurricanes accompanied by suitably rousing martial music. Or rather, unsuitably rousing martial music.

‘You keenly spotted the music from the film Battle of Britain composed by Roy Goodwin which was a terrific soundtrack,’ programme editor Quentin Smith replied to a viewer who had emailed him about the programme. ‘Our team was asked for the Battle of Britain theme from the film and unfortunately took that to be the opening music to the film which, as you rightly point out, is the “Luftwaffe March”. I hope it did not spoil your enjoyment of the occasion too much.’

… About that first item, we’d say, howler of the year? More like a lifetime.