By Tony Attwood
Newspapers and websites love to present themselves as the neutral reporters of events. The world is out there, they suggest; they merely tell their readers about it.
But in fact newspapers and websites are the opposite: they are the manipulators of reality, manipulating the stories they tell in order to maximise their own audience and to push their point of view – invariably without the audience realising they are being manipulated.
In the case of reporting Arsenal, the story is Arsenal is rubbish. The club stupidly lets talented youngsters leave and buys ludicrously overpriced players who don’t deliver. The fans are in thus quite rightly in revolt over this not least because no progress is being made.
This can be seen in virtually every report about Arsenal. Take for example this opening sentence in an article published after the defeat to Liverpool yesterday…
Another trip to Anfield, another heavy defeat for Arsenal.
So begins the Guardian’s article headlined “Anfield again proves the mirror that reflects Arsenal’s ugliest failings.” It was writte by Jonathan Wilson, and it made me ponder.
Now Jonathan Wilson is no amateur outsider who needs to establish his credentials or can be accused of sloppy writing. He is a regular commentator on football – albeit on Eastern European football and tactics. He wrote “Inverting the Pyramid”, a book about football tactics that won the award for Football Book of the Year in 2009 and he edits “The Blizzard”, a journal about football writing.
Which means this guy knows what he is doing and each word is undoubtedly carefully chosen. Which is what makes the use of “heavy” and “ugly” so interesting.
The “argument” (if that is not too strong a word) in the piece is that Arsenal’s lineup played into Liverpool’s hands. But nowhere is there any explanation concerning why the “failings” of Arsenal were “ugly”, nor how a two goal defeat is a “heavy” defeat.
And this is important because these words appear in the headlines, and because of the way language is used creates a mindset. The phrase “heavy defeat” and the words “failings” and “ugly” are of course all both negative and personal opinion, but the intention is for the reader to assimilate them and accept them as true, without asking, “if a two goal defeat is a heavy defeat, what is a three goal defeat?”
Indeed I don’t recall the Liverpool 2-0 defeat to Crvena Zvezda in the Champions League on 6 November last year being called a “heavy defeat,” although the writer, being an expert on East European football would know all about that game. And if was, what should we have called the 3-0 defeat to Barcelona? “A pheonominally heavy defeat” perhaps.
In fact it is the way in which the language is manipulated that tells us the agenda of the writer and the publisher, and the fact that this is written by an award winning writer and published by a newspaper that likes to see itself as publishing accurate writing composed for a free-thinking intelligent audience, that gives us a real insight into what is going on here.
Now it is easiy to ask “Does it matter?” I think it does, because each and every one of these misuses of words and phrases is another brick in the wall on which is written all the negatives that we hear each day about Arsenal. The wall upon which also was written the story that Arsenal had a transfer budget this summer of £40m. It was a story all the media followed with glee, and a story which has since caused them much embarassement, which is part of the reason for wanting to knock Arsenal now.
The fact of the match yesterday was that Arsenal lost and were never in a position where they looked like winning. And if we want to find words to describe defeats, then we might say defeat by one goal is a defeat by the narrowest of margins, two goals is a defeat, three goals is a clear defeat, four goals a major defeat and so on.
So this wasn’t a heavy defeat. But was it “worrying”? But what is a “worrying” defeat? Presumably one that has Arsenal’s managerial staff worried. That would I guess have been last season’s 5-1 defeat. And consider this. In the transfer window Arsenal bought in six new players, to Liverpool’s four. None of Liverpool’s four players was either in the opening XI or on the bench for this game. Meaning the squad is settled and experienced from last year’s games. Arsenal included three of their summer signings, plus one youth player now in his first season of regular games. So over a quarter of Arsenal’s team is new and getting the hang of the squad, the system, the Engish refereeing approach, the crowds, the manager…
How can such a defeat be “worrying” especially with Arsenal, this morning, sitting second in the League?
Of course at this point you may be saying, “why is he banging on and on about a single word?” And the answer is because this putting down of Arsenal by the media is what goes on all the time. And when the Guardian denies that one club is treated differently from any other, as one of their writers did this summer, we have shown this is not the case – Arsenal get far more negative stories than the other clubs.
And indeed if you have followed our historical analysis you will know this has been so at least from the 1920s onwards.
Overall the media has three aims
1: To build an audience for its views, often both to help make money, and to enhance its audience by becoming seen as having one particular viewpoint which fits with the audience. (That is, create a viewpoint, get the audience to believe it is the natural and obvious way to see the world, and thus keep the audience with you).
2: To manipulate that audience into its way of thinking because the message is put across all the time. See it or hear it enough and it starts to be obvious.
3: To ensure the audience does not think it is being manipulated but rather accepts what the medium says as the truth; the obvious way of seeing the world. In short if the audiecne can be persuaded to see the media as unbiased – merely reporting the facts, rather than pushing a line – then it believes.
As to why the media wants to knock Arsenal by calling their performance “ugly” and the defeat “heavy” – this has become the habit that helps the audience identify this as an Arsenal-knocking journal. It is the style and approach that led to the £40m transfer story put out by Arsenal Supporters Trust being picked up by most of the newspapers, and because of this constant negative background noise, many blogs and a few other informal grouping of supporters, from Arseblog to Le Grove, incorporating Black Scarf Movement along the way, all signed up to the paper AST put out denouncing Arsenal via a pack of lies.
The attempt to get us to embrace the media’s story about Arsenal, as about everything else from flower arranging to Brexit, is constant. Only by questioning every example we see can we even start to attempt to see the world as it is, rather than as we are told it is.
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- Luton Town – how do they play the game. The tackles, fouls and cards.
- Luton Town v Arsenal: Grim football, fewest goals, lowest possession rate