By Dr Billy “the dog” McGraw
There is a fairly well known story in literary and political circles that states that soon after the publication of the George Orwell novel “1984” a British journalist was granted a visa to visit North Korea in order to write about it for his newspaper. The journalist had a copy of the new novel with him and read it while on his tour and unfortunately left the book with various other odds and ends he didn’t need, in his hotel on his last night, before getting a flight back to England.
The novel was discovered by a member of hotel staff who didn’t speak English, who dutifully handed it over to a representative of the Ministry of People’s Security who found a translator who read the book.
Unfortunately, with no context at hand in relation to English literature, the Ministry misunderstood the book, and instead of reading it as a dire warning of what might happen, saw it instead as a blueprint for a modern state. Hence, the North Korea as today.
I fear that Untold Arsenal has been caught in the same position.
For over eight years we have been writing about the decline of football journalism and its retreat from evidence into opinion, in which each opinion is presented as fact and the resultant “facts” which “don’t fit” are removed from reports and wiped from reality.
At the same time the general public are fed endless dross (the transfer rumours are a perfect example) while major issues (such as the PGMO being modelled along the lines of the North Korean state, or at least in imitation of the refereeing organisation in Italy during its time of mass football corruption, while all other major referee organisations have travelled as far away from Calciopoli as possible) are utterly ignored.
As selective in fact as the media in North Korea.
Our aim in making this point was utterly honourable. We wanted to warn everyone of exactly where we end up when journalism in sport can be used to manipulate and twist reality, ignoring reality, ignoring stories that don’t fit, while feeding the audience mindless triva, endless pap, and a series of stories that have no basis whatsoever in fact.
Thus we had the notion that England as a team would do better if there were more English players in the Premier League, the notion that transfers make a difference or that getting rid of one manager and replacing with another leads to success, the notion that Arsenal committed the most fouls, the notion that the FA is a decent and honourable organisation, the notion that teams can play in Fifa organised competitions while not being corrupted, the notion that “it all evens out in the end” etc etc.
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The replacement of reality by fantasy model was completed with the introduction of phone-ins, where people with interesting and insightful commentaries never get past the receptionist at the TV studio, as people replicating the mainstream media pap are given airtime. The results are then discussed seriously by other journalists in other studios, as if they represented an insight into dominant opinion.
That is the model we have seen for a long time and which this site has, I think, been quite good at describing. But here was where the editorial board of Untold made a dreadful error.
An error because we ignored the fact that once this model of writing and broadcasting about football had become so successful in bewitching audiences that it was the dominant – indeed the only – way of looking at football (save a few honourable blogs like this one) it was a model on public display of how to manipulate reality.
As a result this type of corrupt journalism once restricted to football and a couple of fanatical right wing newspapers, seeped into the mainstream of writing everywhere.
That was bad enough, but when two politicians who are also journalists – or maybe two journalists who became jobbing politicians (Johnson and Gove) – the men who now run Britain – are journalist politicians. Men who have seen how successfully journalism in sport can be used to manipulate and twist reality and have now done the same in politics.
Consider this analysis
“They grab media attention by blaring out a big, dramatic thought. An institution is failing? Close it. A public figure blunders? Sack him.”
If that reads like Untold criticising the aaa and its approach to Mr Wenger, actually it isn’t. It is an analysis in the Observer by Nick Cohen.
It is a reflection of everything Untold has feared – that the model of corrupt media reporting of football has been so successful in grabbing and manipulating the agenda while keeping outside the debate all the important topics, that it could not be long before a bunch of politicians would see it as the way of grabbing power.
And if you think my linkage is tenuous here, try this one.
Johnson and Gove carried with them a second feature of unscrupulous journalism: the contempt for practical questions.
Indeed just as the aaa work in simple single concepts such as “Sack Wenger and Arsenal will win the League” or “what we need is a new centre forward” without any recourse to an examination of reality, so political journalists have now done the same – and with huge success.
As Cohen says, “The worst journalists, editors and broadcasters know their audiences want entertainment,” and that is what they get. They absolutely do not get a reflection of reality.
Indeed so rapid has been the move into adopting the successful model of football journalism you need only look at Michael Gove’s “analysis” of the situation. “People in this country have had enough of experts,” he said. It is the political version of “you can prove anything with statistics”.
The Times, hardly my favourite newspaper, at least did manage to fire Johnson for lying to its readers. When bluster failed he called the highly regarded head of the UK Statistics Authority, a “stooge.”
Of course politicians lie. Everyone lies. But the one thing we used to have, which we could hold onto, was a media that held the liars to account. A media that looked at what was really going on and said, “hang on this can’t be true.” The journalists who way back in 1915 helped uncover the match fixing of Liverpool and Manchester United in the first division. What on earth happened to journalism?
Just as Match of the Day has become a total parody of football analysis, talking up Tottenham and Liverpool, simplistic analyses and one line answers which suggest that the pundits in the studio could take Arsenal to the top of the league with a five minute shake up, so the political journalists have followed the model and allowed the same corruption to develop there – for exactly the same reason.
It is just so much easier to make stuff up, rather than even ask difficult questions. As for answering difficult questions properly, no chance.
And when someone else asks and examines difficult questions, it is so much easier to drop in a phrase. “You can prove anything with statistics”. “The country is sick of experts.”
Of course we can wait and see which of the 70 odd footballers that are supposedly coming to Arsenal by the end of August actually end up at the Emirates, realise it is not what the journalists and bloggers predicted, and then blame Arsene Wenger for being so slow rather than blaming the journalists and bloggers. Likewise we can wait for the £350m a week to be spent on the NHS, the cut to VAT, the higher pension rate for the elderly, the improved transport system and the extra money for the arts, science, and farmers.
Inevitably there are one or two journalists in the media still trying to fight the move of political reporting into the model of footballing reporting but it looks like they have lost. Just as people daily write to Untold heaping the most appalling abuse on those of us who support Wenger and who demand either evidence or logical analysis, their voices are in the wilderness.
So, eight years ago Untold pointed out how useless and indeed corrupted football journalism had become. We did so because we thought it was right to expose the way simplistic platitudes were being used to replace proper insight, as a result of which many people were being misled.
We thought we might, through endless prodding, change journalism a little bit, or at least make more people aware of the nonsense they were being fed.
At worst we thought that we’d have no effect.
What none of us realised is that we could describe the model of corrupt reporting and “analysis” so well, that the political journalists and then journalist-politicians, would see the message not as a warning but as a blueprint.
Elections and democracy are difficult things because, just as it seems the majority of the people who follow football phone ins, newspaper reporting of football, Match of the Day and the like, all seem to think there is nothing amiss with football. Now that message has gone further.
Thus elections can be as fair as local arrangements can make them, and deliver awful results. The 1932 elections in Germany meant that the Nazi Party was the largest parliamentary group in government. Adolf Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933 as a result of that election.
Of course I am not saying that Johnson and co are Nazis. I am saying that just occasionally democracy can bring the wrong result. And it tends to do it when the media is no longer holding politicians to account.
In England the newspapers have been refusing to hold football journalists on TV and radio to account for around 20 years, and as a result we have a world in which all the evidence Untold presents to the effect that there are a number of things seriously wrong with English football are dismissed as “conspiracy theories” and “fantasies”. Now a group of three politicians have spotted how to do it, and have taken that approach to the mainstream newspapers.
Proper analysis, examination of facts, searching for evidence and drawing logical conclusions? That stopped years ago in football. We thought that by pointing this out we would be helping matters. Instead it looks like Untold has helped the cessation of evidence based debating in politics as well.
Of course democracy is the best system available. But eternal vigilance is always the price we pay when we have democracy, and a lot of people stopped paying.
From all at Untold, our sincere apologies. We really thought we were helping, but it seems that just like that well-meaning journalist in North Korea, we’ve given the nutters a blueprint