On media bias
Several people have complained about Ben Brown’s interview with Jody McIntyre as evidence of James Bloodworth’s claim that “the gulf between what has taken place on the day and what is reported by the mainstream media has reached increasingly absurd proportions.”I’m not sure. It seems to me that Brown is pastiching Chris Morris: “rolling towards the police“ is just brilliant.But I might be wrong. If I am, I suspect that what’s going on here is not an individual’s folly, but rather a set of systematic forces that bias even the reasonable media - I’m ignoring filth like Littlecock - towards the police’s point of view. I’m thinking of several reinforcing ones:1. Mutual interest. The media need the police to feed them titbits of stories about crimes. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.2. Hierarchy speaks to hierarchy. The BBC, like most mainstream media, is grotesquely hierarchical. And like attracts like. Journalists - being comfortable with hierarchy - are sympathetic to other hierarchies such as the police, and antipathetic to decentralized tendencies be they blogs or protesters. 3. Laziness. If you to know the police’s view, a phone call to their press office suffices. If you want to know what protesters think, you have to get off your arse and look for them. The former generates regular contact, which in turn naturally generates a mutual sympathy which one-off interviews do not. In this sense, the bias towards the police is a part of a general journalistic failing, a bias towards any well-resourced special interest group which plays the PR game. As Oliver Kamm once said, the BBC is “a soft cushion bearing the impress of whichever pressure group sat on it last.”4. Class. Ben Brown went to Sutton Valence school, where fees (including boarding) are almost as much as the typical worker earns all year. He, like his colleagues, comes from that class for whom the police is a benign service, rather than an alien oppressive power. And, naturally, they are more sympathetic to well-spoken, clean-shaven empty suits than to scruffs like Mr McIntyre.5. Agency. Journalists are much better at looking for individuals who are responsible for doing things, rather than at impersonal social and psychological forces or emergent behaviour; this is why they are traditionally so bad at reporting finance and economics. But this bias means they are determined to split protesters into peaceful protestors and troublemakers, and oblivious to the possibility that conflict thrill turns some protestors and police towards violent behaviour even if they set out without such intentions.6. The impartiality myth. Protesters are an obviously biased group. Police, by contrast, are regarded as impartial upholders of the law. The result is that the media stand with the police, and see things as police do. The job of reporting from protesters’ viewpoint is left to blogs and the fringe media.These biases generate a systematic tendency for even reasonably honest journalists to side with the police and against protesters. I say this not to allege widespread police misbehaviour, nor to deny that some protesters have behaved badly. It’s just that I wouldn’t expect unbiased reports of such behaviour from the media.