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How one journalist successfully twists reality to create his constant anti-Arsenal message

By Tony Attwood

Jonathan Liew is a journalist who I must admit, used to annoy me a lot when he worked for the Telegraph, for he appeared to have a brief of knocking Arsenal on a fairly regular basis.  Then I think he worked on the Independent.  Now he is back big time on the Guardian, and he has evolved a more sophisticated style to output the same message – that the media is completely neutral in its reporting of Arsenal, and that sniggering is a reasonable way of reporting football.

Of course this wouldn’t matter too much if his writing were checked by sub-editors for accuracy, but because he includes what might be classified by some as “humour” it appears that the sub-editors don’t touch his work, and thus the circle is complete.  He can make up anything about Arsenal, and it gets published in what is elsewhere a serious newspaper, and thus it begins to take on the mantle of truth, when it fact its whole purpose is to hide the truth.

Take this for example:

“You can sense trouble brewing for Arsenal the moment they go on the attack. This sounds paradoxical but, once you’ve watched a club like this for long enough, reading the early signs of calamity becomes a sort of sixth sense, an almost shamanic instinct, like being able to see tomorrow’s weather in the pattern of a leaf.”

Ignore the sarcasm and a sense of “I’m so clever I can write this stuff and get it published” which wafts up from the text and what happens is that a reality bending story comes to be taken as reality.  Of course it would be far more worrying if this writer were a climate change denier, but the fact that he is a football reality denier and the Guardian are giving him full exposure, really does tell us a lot about where football journalism has got to.  Try this…

“First comes Arsenal’s initial surge (bae: come over), an attack that sends at least half a dozen players sprinting forward at full pelt in search of a late winner. Then Matteo Guendouzi (distracted boyfriend) gets his head turned by the prospect of glory and completely loses sight of his original job. Next, as Willian sprints towards goal, a half-paced Saka (the “This Is Fine” dog) can scarcely be bothered to track him. Then Shkodran Mustafi (the anime butterfly guy) is utterly hoodwinked by Tammy Abraham (“is this … a first-time finish?”). Finally, as Chelsea’s players wheel away in celebration, a furious and ultimately futile inquest (the argument from American Chopper) can begin.”

In case you got lost at the very start with the “bae: anything else” bit let me try and help.  On social media it can mean “baby” or “before anything else”.  In Danish it means excrement.  You may or may not have the foggiest idea what the fellow is writing about, but one thing is clear, it is not positive from the point of view of Arsenal.

Occasionally he calms down, and then we see what’s really going on, as with,

“Arsenal fans were quick to point out that Jorginho, the scorer of Arsenal’s equaliser, should have been dismissed for a second yellow.”

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Well, yes up to a point – but since the Guardian’s own report on the match mentioned that there was a case for Jorginho to have gone this is clearly misleading.  It was not just “Arsenal fans”.  But mentioning that one’s colleague also thought things were amiss would spoil the rant.

Instead we get the comment that the picture of Arteta on the front page of the programme was of “either a new coach who means business, or an air steward about to point out the nearest emergency exits.”  And you may say, “I find that funny, so it is worth putting in.  And that is fair enough, except that other clubs don’t get this treatment.

Because if you combine this “humour” with the personal opinion presented without evidence that the club is immersed in an “innate fatalism, an assumption that calamity is just around the corner,” then one man’s personal opinion becomes an opinion dressed as a fact.  When it is (as we have shown in our comparison analysis of the level of negative coverage of different clubs in the past) an approach which is primarily devoted to Arsenal, then its prime function becomes to legitimise the ceaseless knocking of Arsenal without reference to reality by journalists.

And it gets worse for this “innate fatalism” is described as “Arteta’s most toxic inheritance. For now, of course, it is an inheritance he is stuck with. Even Arsène Wenger didn’t burn the place down immediately”.

So what does that mean? In his first season, Mr Wenger took Arsenal up to 3rd, the following season he won the league and cup.   Was that “burning down the house”, or not burning down the house?  Given that two years before Mr Wenger we were 12th I’d say that was pretty good, so in the bizarre world of urban slang that Mr Liew inhabits, I’d say he burned down the house if burning down the house means doing good in contemporary urban slang.   (This phrase was popularised by the band Talking Heads, who in writing the song wrote down a series of phrases at random, and then joined them up to signify the chaotic nature of contemporary society.  Perhaps it now signifies the chaotic nature of Mr Liew’s writing, one can’t be sure).

Mr Liew’s view of Arsenal is that for years players have  hidden and shirked in order to get away with doing as little work as possible. So let’s consider.  In the past six seasons Arsenal have won the FA Cup three times, come runners up and third in the league, as well as 5th and 6th in the other seasons.  Not as good as the early Wenger years, but has given 3 trophies more than Tottenham, and two more than Liverpool (and indeed better league placings than Liverpool).  Of course the Champions League was a major trophy for Liverpool, but still the comparison over recent years has a relevance I feel).

Indeed Arsenal’s last six years contains the sort of record that most clubs would give up their ownership of their ground (if they do own it) for.  And yet Arsenal have done all this apparently by hiding and shirking.   That’s quite something.  It suggests that if only Mr Wenger had got off his backside we’d have won the league three or four times as well as those three cups.

Or could it be that as in his Telegraph days Mr Liew is generating a narrative that is far, far more insidious?

Through the use of a message that is wholly unfounded and unproven (as is the story of innate fatalism) the journalist creates a sense that hopelessness is real.  In short what Mr Liew does is propagate a feeling that Arsenal is in trouble because of its own failings, whereas Arsenal’s “failings” would be success in most other club’s eyes, and indeed would be success in terms of most of Arsenal’s past.

In the face of the clubs with unparalleled financial resources Arsenal under Mr Wenger still picked up cups and top four positions.   That could be celebrated as success, but instead Mr Liew portray’s it as total failure.  But worse he does it in this faux humorous style which seeks to avoid any chance of a reader actually thinking, “this is simply not true.”   In short Mr Liew’s message is, “I’ll blame the club,” when in reality the media itself created the story it now runs every day.

And as we know from seeing what AFTV has done, when the story has nothing to do with reality, the damage being caused can escalate.  Mr Liew’s writing is in a very different class from that of the ranters on AFTV, and yet the harm it causes to Arsenal is the same.

9 comments to How one journalist successfully twists reality to create his constant anti-Arsenal message

  • Minesy

    “what is elsewhere a serious newspaper” ???? Just because the Times, the Telegraph and The Guardian use larger formats and longer words than The Sun, The Mirror and The Express, it doesn’t stop them all being worthless rags spouting their toxic bile at the world. The days when there was any serious journalism prevalent anywhere in such publications is long gone. Haven’t bought a newspaper for well over a decade, wouldn’t waste my money or my intellect on any of them !!!

  • Ben

    Wow reading that it seems like Jon Liew has sunked to Metro level of journalism with the meme references.

  • Mandy Dodd

    I think there is at least one reason Liew is so anti Arsenal, apart from the media agenda, he is a confirmed Spud- scroll down to the who is your team question in the interview
    https://thesetpieces.com/interviews/vox-in-the-box-jonathan-liew/

    Curiously, he also states Arsenal are his second favourite team, but his narrative over the years and the unlikelyhood of supporting spurs first, then Arsenal lead me to question this unless he is over about 80-90 years old when people used to do that sort of thing, allegedly.

    A shame Arsenal don’t have more champions in the media, as our rivals do. Ex Arsenal players in the media seem to feel they have to try even harder than others in unleashing vitriol on the club, such a shame Thierry, who should be above that sort of thing is joining in with the thick with a capital F Paul Merson, and the bitter for some reason Alan Smith.

  • Zedsaunt

    ”an almost shamanic instinct, like being able to see tomorrow’s weather in the pattern of a leaf.”

    Mr Liew doesn’t know his shamanic instinct from his early bowel warning system.

    Mr Arteta’s presence has vastly improved my sense of wellbeing. Obviously over the coming weeks he will impose solutions. He inspires reasonable quiet confidence.

  • Nitram

    Minesy

    Very well said.

    As much as I have always reluctantly conceded that the media are a necessary evil, (I mean just imagine what the rich, the famous, the elite, would get away with without at least thinking for one second that their every action or word may just be being watched or taped, heaven help us, as they are a disgrace as it is) that doesn’t mean I don’t regard them all with equal disdain and contempt.

    Zedsaunt

    “Mr Arteta’s presence has vastly improved my sense of wellbeing.”

    You echo the thoughts of myself and a few other regulars it seems, but as I said earlier, with this seemingly endless tide of cheating (See fouls to cards ratio’s for evidence of this) getting worse (if that was even possible) even Arteta and a rejuvenated squad could find the task of retrieving anything at all from this season, and seasons to come, beyond them.

    But again when even the likes of Henry, whom I thought absolutely loved Arsenal, is prepared to stick the knife in what hope is there of turning even the negativity around let alone the fortunes of the team.

  • Chris

    The one positive, if I may express it this way, is that Mr Arteta won’t be expected to win the PL….everybody will be happy if Arsenal don’t get relegated… ;=) This may buy him some time with the AAA, although I’m not betting my salary on it !

  • Gooner S

    Yes, I read this Guardian article this morning and dismissed it as as nonsense. Martin Keown’s analysis on the BBC Sport website was better.

  • rondejonge

    such articles as mr Liew boomerangs straight back at journalists and so called quality papers. If so called quality news papers wonder why people fall for fake news let m analyse these pieces of biased, subjectice non fact as this Liew piece. It is exactly the reason many people dont trust journalism anymore and alas rightly so. Under the guise of objectivity, a lot of bile and OPINION, no fact! but presented as a factual piece. Alas they dont have the intelligence to see this, they really feel that they are upholding the truth and are objective, sad indeed. (and probably are so cynical that they like to rile up some Arsenal fans, how s that for quality jounalism)

  • Debs

    @Tony, so someone can’t say arsenal is in trouble now? Okay I apologize on behalf of Mr liew. Arsenal has never been better

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