(This is a pre-publication of an obituary of The Guardian newspaper whose death is expected in 2017.)
Today (December 29th 2016), The Guardian newspaper surprised no-one by admitting it could no longer financially support a print version. The terminal news was formally announced by Katharine Viner at an impromptu press conferences at the John Stuart Grill burger bar.
Reaction to the Guardian’s demise has been predictable. Murdoch, Desmond, Rothermere and the Barclay Brothers have each enhanced security at their respective newspaper offices to ensure that no professional centrists get in, the Daily Mirror has hired a supercilious nutritionist for its staff canteen in expectation of new arrivals and James Harding of the BBC is checking that each of the new applicants went to the right private school. However, the most popular response has been a shrug.
Below, I examine why The Guardian expired.
A newspaper’s political location
For marketing and sales purposes, any national newspaper needs a political location. All right-of-centre nuances have been covered by Telegraph, Express, Mail, Sun and Times, and the Mirror has been the Labour party newspaper for many years. Thus, over the past five decades, The Guardian sought a safe house in the (undefined) centre, often (though not always) with created support for the evolving Liberal, SDP, Liberal Democrat entity.
Beyond liberal safety The Guardian had occasionally observed a gap in the market to fill. In the worst of the Thatcher years it was not unusual for left-thinking “educated” people to persuade themselves that buying The Guardian would be useful and, later, when Blair’s con trick exposed itself, a similar demographic thought it was an alternative to the Labour loyalist Mirror. Was The Guardian really offering a left-wing mainstream newspaper alternative? No. Adept market analysis had led to a few seductive and comforting articles and editorials. Of course, the target market was not all people with left-of-centre views, only those from a, er, middle-class demographic. The last position The Guardian ever wished to adopt was support and encouragement for politically aware working class people.
Two events in the current decade revealed the uselessness of The Guardian.
The paper gave its full support to the Liberal Democrats for the 2010 general election. As a follow-up to its identification of a market gap – the left-of-centre middle-class – The Guardian presented its choice of party as an alternative both to the Tories and to a Labour party that had become increasingly right-wing due to a combination of Blair’s authoritarianism and Brown’s reckless attitude to international finance. The fact that Clegg became a mere lap-dog for Tories’ destruction cannot be dismissed as knowledge in hindsight. The Guardian knew what it was promoting.
In July 2013, The Guardian destroyed files and computers related to Edward Snowden’s leaks of criminal behaviour by USA government agencies – Guardian destroys computers. The destruction was at the request of GCHQ. The Guardian had not been ordered to smash equipment and delete files by a court and none of its journalists were facing criminal charges. It chose to take the action due to threats of criminal charges, rather than contest any (obviously erroneous and malicious) criminal charges. Claims that the destruction was symbolic were made by the newspaper because copies of the files’ contents were stored elsewhere by other parties. The only symbolism on show was dereliction of journalistic duty by a national newspaper kowtowing to unproven authority; in other words, abject cowardice.
Web-based challenge to printed media
The necessity for newspapers to adjust to competition from (mostly free) web-based news sites has existed for many years. Consequences of the newcomers’ popularity have included the death of some newspapers – for example, The Independent. Survival for printed newspapers required a narrower reporting scope, proportionally greater emphasis on entertainment and a certainty of political bias. For right-wing newspapers, the adjustment has been easier because of their low level of interest in integrity, truth and balance, although The Times is struggling. The Mirror continues as Labour mouthpiece, for now. The rest – the centre – has been the worst hit by ease of access, no (or low) cost and immediacy of web-based news sites. First The Independent and then The Guardian. (The New Statesman had long since degraded into just another Spectator.)
The vulnerability of centrist newspapers is a reflection of political decay of the centre and is also a consequence of the exposure of the papers’ duplicity. There is no certainty of political position to cling to. The aforesaid safe house of the centre that The Independent and The Guardian occupied has been throttled mercilessly by both right and left. Its purpose and its ideology has become as ephemeral as the (democratically elected via proportional representation) emperor’s new clothes. Liberal politics – distinct from liberal philosophy – is defunct; real reform of capitalist exploitation is impossible and pretending to want to enact such reform is spotted quickly. The centre is not a safe haven from the extremities, it is not a compromise and it is not capitalism with social responsibility; it is an anachronism. Thus, the centre ground newspapers were unable to retreat to a definitive political stance in order to maintain a foothold faced with the competition from the online news sources.
Jeremy Corbyn was elected overwhelmingly as Labour leader on 12th September 2015.
The liberal media had two options.
- Support a Labour leader who offered a genuine challenge to the Tories’ destruction and to the rise of far-right populism.
- Recoil in horror at the thought of a resurgence of socialist tendencies in mainstream politics.
Obviously, the second option was chosen because liberalism is a subset of conservatism. Within the context of conservatism, liberalism opposes fascism, but liberalism will always favour conservatism over socialism. (Simple guide to politicalisms.) Thus, The Guardian failed to adopt a clear political position, a decision that led to its undoing.
Stance, tactics, tone and themes of liberal media opposition to Corbyn is mentioned in Reaction to Corbyn election, Liberal media and Corbyn, Liberal media’s use of events and Oldham by-election. The theme that dominated The Guardian’s attacks on Corbyn was dismissal of the popularity of socialist tendency accompanied by a tone of condescension. It was a stance informed by fear. So strong was the fear that it prohibited intelligent analysis and didactic reasoning. An example of this opposition to logic is the sheer desperation of Polly Toynbee’s laughable cringe-filled mock support for a non-entity called Owen Smith in which she describes the former Pfizer lobbyist as “soft left” – Toynbee on Owen Smith.
Aping the normal tactics of the right-wing media, The Guardian was happy to indulge in deliberate invention, misrepresentation and rejection of logical reasoning. Hadley Freeman in Freeman on Corbyn likened Corbyn and those who support him to Trump and his supporters. Archie Bland took that anti-logic a step further likening Corbyn’s supporters to the extreme-right: “An elderly man was pictured in a T-shirt bearing the legend ‘Eradicate the right-wing Blairite vermin’, a phrase that will have drawn a shudder from anyone with a passing familiarity with the tropes of antisemitic and anti-immigrant prejudice” exclaimed Bland with a straight face in Bland on toxicity in politics.
An adopted claim of anti-Semitism was one of The Guardian’s recurring anti-Corbyn themes. Working hand-in-hand with the Progress sub-party, no lie was too absurd, no libel too embarrassing and no reductio too ad absurdum for this artificially created campaign. Fuelled in part as a response to Corbyn’s support for Palestine and in part by sheer opportunism, the accusations of anti-Semitism were vitriolic and unashamedly unacquainted with facts. Johnathan Freedland offered two of the prevailing twists of reason in Freedland on anti-Semitism in Labour. That is, an attempt to disallow political criticism of Israel leading to libelous anti-Semitism accusations against those who do criticise, and a bizarre deduction that an anti-capitalist critique of international banking is somehow anti-Semitic because some the leading banks were founded by Jewish people. That is an example of how basic was the dishonesty of the anti-Semitism claims against Corbyn and his supporters. Daniel Boffey’s tortuous attempt to smear Corbyn via the latter’s acceptance of a donation (that didn’t actually happen) is almost Kafkaesque, if Kafka had been as bad at fiction as Dan Brown is. In Boffey waffles the Observer’s “policy editor” complains about a “donation” from a pro-Palestinian organisation, whose founder stated that Hamas is not a terrorist organisation. But Hamas isn’t such, it is the elected authority of Gaza. And, the donation didn’t exist. And, the entire article is bunkum of the dumbest type. More nonsense was spouted by Joshua Simons in a collection of casual general statements such as “in the eyes of the leaders of the British far left, Israel’s occupation – for some, even Israel’s existence – offers a firm moral basis for antipathy towards Jews in Israel or, more ambitiously, towards Jews everywhere” and “antisemitism among the British left continues to be about capitalism too. The familiar image endures of the Jew as the master of usury, the sedentary banker and financier, the archetypal neoliberal even.” These comments by Simons were plucked from thin air; they are absurd and he knows they are; his article was designed purely as a smear against Corbyn and his supporters. “Labour is currently led by a team whose political identity is driven first and foremost by a visceral contempt for America and for Israel” he concluded, stupidly. The nadir for this particular line of attack was the platform given to author Howard Jacobson upon which he first attacked Shami Chakrabarti’s professionalism and competence and then presented some of the most contrived and dishonest arguments about anti-Semitism ever written or spoken – Jacobson’s imagination. The fact The Guardian chose to print such a smear-filled article revealed its quivering fear of Corbyn’s politics.
The blatant attacks were accompanied by confidence trickstering assisted by patronising faux support. Toynbee declared “I support everything Corbyn says but can he just change it all to appease my friends in the Progress mob?” in Toynbee yeah but no but, and Freedland assured all that “I agree with Corbyn on immigration but can he change it to appease the UKIPpers?” in Freedland yeah but no but.
The motivation behind the liberal media’s relentless attacks on Corbyn and his supporters is a fear of what may follow if Corbyn is successful. As stated above, nothing scares a liberal more than socialism. This has been true since ‘On Liberty.’
Death of a newspaper is not welcome
The death of The Guardian is not welcome. A wide variety of news sources is desirable and that includes the existence of a narrow centrist view. The Independent continued as The I; it evolved. The Guardian, buoyed by misplaced sense of its own worth, eschewed necessary change.
Its political intransigence was its suicide note.