Hugo Rifkind

The problem with Corbyn’s hatred of the media

To regard the fourth estate as a coherent and malicious political entity is conspiratorial madness

The problem with Corbyn’s hatred of the media
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The new leader walks across a bridge, in the dark, while the journalist asks him questions. He’s not shouting, this journalist; not like Michael Crick would be, all smug of face while shrieking ‘Isn’t it true you’re a terrible dickhead?’ None of that. Even so, the leader says not a word. He stares ahead, face stony, furious and fixed. Clip-clop go his feet. For two minutes. There’s a video. For two actual minutes.

WATCH: This is what happened when I tried to ask #Corbyn about shadow cabinet. He accuses me of "bothering" him.

— Darren McCaffrey (@DMcCaffreySKY) September 14, 2015

This was Jeremy Corbyn, being trailed across Westminster Bridge by Sky News in the small hours of Monday morning. Cowardice, you might think. Running away, as a man might if he found critique, even of the mildest sort, to be torture. As he might, indeed, if he’d be prepared to leave his wife, rather than live with having lost an argument about their children’s schooling. And you may be right, only maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe it was strategy.

In his first few hours as leader of the opposition, Corbyn pulled out of the BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show. He pulled out of Radio 4’s Today programme. In his first 24 hours, he spoke only to two BBC youth-orientated music stations, the Observer and the Scottish Daily Record. He shunned everybody else, including every other newspaper. David Cameron did more press when he left his kid in that pub.

Things have picked up a tad since then. Still, it seems safe to assume that Corbyn loathes the media, and not just because of that deathly zombie-march across Westminster Bridge. In his victory speech he took the time to complain about media attacks on his family, which was notable and jarring, not least because there don’t seem to have been any.

For his supporters, too, and particularly the new ones, the media is as much of an enemy as his other enemies, which include Tories and Zionists and his own parliamentary party and also, as the next few months pass, probably quite a few other people. It’s not new, this populist media-loathing, but once it would only have gone as far as newspapers and the commercial side, on account of the way we hacks are all craven jobsworths in regular contact (perhaps by WhatsApp?) with our neoliberal billionaire paymasters. Recently, though, it seems to have extended even to the BBC, who are presumably crushing the noble proletariat just for kicks.

You don’t need to like the media, obviously. Even most people in the media don’t like the media. That being said, the point at which you begin to regard the fourth estate as a coherent political entity with objectives running maliciously counter to the populace at large is, I think, the point at which you vanish up your own conspiratorial bumhole. Moreover, you also rather betray your contempt for that same populace by suggesting that they’ll swallow any old disadvantageous nonsense provided page three has a pair of tits. Still, like I said, it’s hardly a new viewpoint, and nor is it unique to the Corbynistas. For supporters of the SNP and Ukip among others, the idea of media as a sworn, biased, irredeemable enemy is an article of faith.

The difference is, that’s just the fans, not the band. Nigel Farage will bask happily in the loathing his troops have for the print and broadcast press alike, yet he’ll simultaneously hurl himself at any outlet that will have him in the manner of Julian Assange with a book out. The SNP, meanwhile, remain on fabulously chummy terms with both the Holyrood and Westminster commentariat, even while their foot soldiers denounce the very same people in tweets and petitions and, in the case of poor Nick Robinson last year, with an actual picket outside BBC Glasgow. Team Corbyn, by contrast, takes it all to heart. With the leader himself, normally kindly as Santa, you can see the contempt in his eyes.

The question is, what’s the alternative? The former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis popped up on both Newsnight and Channel 4 News on Monday, advising Corbyn on how to ‘bypass’ the ‘terrorising’ media in the manner of Syriza. This was obviously a bit rich coming from a man so media-whorish that he once did a preening photo spread in Paris Match (it’s hard to imagine Jeremy doing Grazia), and also left you wondering if the bankrupt Greeks today might not rather regret relying so heavily on exciting Facebook posts. Still, I guess he’s the model. Varoufakis and Tsipras were sexy, young and fresh. though. Corbyn and John McDonnell, with a combined age of 130, look like a pair of plain-clothes coppers who have slept in their car.

Certainly, then, it’s ambitious. Labour’s plan is not only to tap into a whole new electorate which currently doesn’t bother to vote, but also to forge a whole new mode of communication with the bit that does. They want people who can’t be bothered to read the Sun to bother to read blogs about ‘people’s quantitative easing’ — and that, to me, feels like a bit of a punt. Yet it is also philosophically bang on brand. It was the Marxists, remember, who came up with ‘false consciousness’; the dazzling of the populace by the shiny organs of a system which never truly had their interests at heart. It has been odd to see such theory adopted by secessionists, and frankly hilarious to see it adopted by the Ukippy far right. For Corbyn and McDonnell, though, it’s destiny. Had they always been able to bypass media, they surely, surely believe, they’d have been swept to power decades ago.

Maybe they’re even right. Who knows? Mainstream media is not what it was, and social media has a reach that ever grows. All the same, it doesn’t half leaving you looking silly and defensive, and not a little bit mad, as you run away across a bridge.