Thursday, February 26, 2015

Times Like These

Of the trends I've identified in recent posts - the seeming unjailability of wealthy and powerful types, the British relish for kissing up to winners and kicking down upon losers - I'm willing to put many of our bad political habits upon the apparently invincible reputation of the Times, our newspaper of record.

I don't mean that the Times is, like, brainwashing the nation or anything similarly mental.  I mean that the fact that this newspaper isn't a national running joke in the way that the Sun or the Mail or the Guardian are, shows you precisely what kind of nation this is.

If you asked a random punter which paper can be relied upon to toe the government's line on any given issue 99% of the time, I expect he or she would cite the Telegraph or the Mirror, depending upon which party is in power.  And that person would be wrong.

The Times editorial line so slavishly matches up with the views of the government of the day that the worst you can expect from it is broad agreement, accompanied by affectionate encouragement to keep at it, to either a greater or lesser extent.

Really, the only occasion I can recall the Times going after a government was at the death of the Brown administration, when it let fly with both barrels - "The toxin in new Labour squats in his Number 10 bunker", being my favourite headline

Small credit goes to the paper for having the courage to shoot Brown after he'd broken a leg and was lying prostrate in the middle of the racetrack, whinnying in terror before the enraged crowd.  Back when Brown and his predecessor were trotting gamely around the paddock tossing their hair in the wind though, the Timesmen were fulsome fans of New Labour.  The paper's bravery generally extends only as far as ridiculing the leader of the opposition, whoever is in opposition, and not a step further.

Economics?  The Times are fierce backers of austerity and will be until the precise second that a government - any government, so long as it's reasonably popular - decides it's against it.  I find that its view of e.g. markets and regulation is most commonly a robotic reiteration of whatever orthodoxy currently prevails.

What of its attitudes on foreign relations?  You might think the Express more belligerent, but the Times' editorial lines on justified violence would put students of the harshest Pakistani madrassa to shame.

The paper has spent the last fifteen years issuing relentless screeches for war against Russia, Syria and Iran and fiery fuck-yous to countless other groups and nations, while ferociously denouncing every move to withdraw from the conflicts that we were already involved in.

It's the Guardian that gets grief for being soft on the crazy terror outfits but as late as yesterday, the Times was still running rejigged press releases from groups like Mujaheddin e Khalq as serious news stories, a habit that it acquired shortly after MEK were removed from the UK list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

Which is the elitist paper?  You'd think it'd be the Guardian but the Times' culture pages are most often one long list of Mileses, Gileses and Jemimas.  Open the T2 supplement on any given day and it's a toss-up between a couple of articles.   One usually asks whatever happened to the scions of minor nobility in some Oxbridge class of 1989, while the other either blubs about the impertinence of folk who are rude about Benedict Cumberbatch's accent, or announces that it's now cool to be posh.  The paper's fellatial adoration for the Bullingdon crowd is actively embarrassing, reliably reading like a cross between an Old Etonian's Christmas round-robin and an episode of MTV Cribs filmed in Downton Abbey.

Today's paper includes yet another Caitlin Moran piece about her "chaotic" council estate upbringing, presented in breathless tones that suggest she might as well have been raised in a shit-splattered shack in a South American shanty town.  The Times can barely get enough of Caitlin's garrulous working-classness, treating her as if a pygmy with a bone through her nose had just stumbled out of the rainforest and handed them an excoriating denunciation of The Brothers Karamazov.  And people worry that the Guardian is condescending?

And which paper pumps out the most woo?  The Mail, right?  Wrong - the Times is your go-to for wails and screams about the awful persecution of climate-change skeptics.  The second article in one T2 edition last week was a long and gushing piece of advocacy for colonic irrigation as a must for physical and spiritual wellness, and didn't look even slightly out of place.

The most soulless, evil and insane?  The other year, the Times ran a column literally calling for a free market in human organs, arguing that the wealthy would get well and the poor would get paid.  Today's letters page features a retired GP responding to an immigration column by one of the head Ukip twats, by demanding genital inspection of all prospective migrants for venereal disease, for Christ's sake.

Even when it's doing the nation a favour, as it did with its reporting on the Rotherham sex abuse rings, the Times can't resist the temptation to fluff its own ego by trumpeting its triumph over the non-existent Commissars of Political Correctness who so spectacularly fail every single day to impede the paper's ability to do whatever it likes, whenever it likes.

And as for the Times' response to its owner's huge phone-hacking debacle, well, maybe the less is said about that, the better. 

As best I can tell, you'd have to go all the way to New York to find another paper as adept at unironically dressing up conventional wisdom as derring-do; as puppyishly desperate to agree with the government of the day on whatever issue is necessary, to whatever extent it must.  Only the New York Times takes as much pride in the repetition of dogma as a daring feat and in the praise of mere expediency as high principle. 

Were we a less bizarre nation, no publication this ridiculous would be able to last so much as a week in print without its reputation being repeatedly showered in the hot piss of public derision.

The fact that it isn't, I think, tells us a lot about the function that the Times fulfills in British public life.  


ejh said...

Also, you know, it employs a columnist who is a plagiarist so prolific - this plagiarism having taken place in the Times - that Johann Hari is a second-division operator set beside him.

Asteri said...

It also hired a man as a lead writer who went from writing reviews of books he hadn't read on Amazon to a top career in journalism because he had a uncle in high places - and his mum translated Asterix comics you know!

Darius Jedburgh said...

Nicely done, Mr R -- although, as usual, a little understated. I always find myself wondering when you're going to take the gloves off.

Anonymous said...

Sure, The Times is the newspaper of the establishment, or rather the establishment of the day.

Indeed, it might be argued that that's where its value lies. Just as The Guardian provides an insight into the values and preoccupations of the metropolitan liberal left, so The Times tells us what the establishment is thinking.

And I honestly can't see a problem with that.