Wednesday 24 January 2018

Soundbite and fury

It’s a thankless business, this opining-on-the-internet malarky. Call me the thinking man’s Katie Hopkins but I expected to be taken to task over the minor divergence of opinion between the proprietors of this blog regarding the Rob Burley / Dan Hodges contretemps. In the event, zilch.  Does no-one care?

To recap; it was a close-run thing, but I sided with Burley, whereas Craig was more inclined towards the Hodges camp.  The nub of the matter was whether Andrew Marr had ‘caved in’ by not playing the infamous lynch-gate audio clip at John McDonnell’s behest. Of course, if Andrew Marr had indeed “caved in” with the dishonourable intention of concealing an incriminating piece of evidence, (take that as non-disclosure) that would indeed have been a serious breach of the BBC’s guidelines. But since the actual clip did not shed much light on whether John McDonnell told the anecdote ‘approvingly’ or not, there wouldn’t have been much point in exposing it yet again to ‘people with agendas’ like me. It was almost as if John McDonnell’s “no need” remark showed that he was resigned to all the potential fall-out from this embarrassing ‘outing’.  

I think I’m saying that Andrew Marr’s silliest mistake was ‘appearing to cave in’, but in reality his decision not to play the clip was completely defensible. Anyway, my bigger point is that when a fake, distorted or out-of-context soundbite is seized upon, left to metamorphose into a mantra and subsequently used as a verbal sledge-hammer to shut-down one’s opponent, it must be called out for what it is - tricksy nonsense. 

The BBC mustn’t accept quick-fix sound-bites as a substitute for the intelligent tenacious scrutiny one expects from all those quick-thinking, well informed, highly paid scrutineers that the Beeb is bulging with.

Here are some examples. 
“The Bus” 
 Did the Leave campaign promise £350 million a week (or whatever it was) to the NHS?  Not exactly. But it’s ok for opponents of Brexit to simply say “Red Bus” and the dragon is slain. Just like that. “Drop dead, Leavers! You haven’t got a leg to stand on. Now that I’ve said “Bus” the game’s up.”  See what I mean? An instant silencing tool and all-purpose cosh for the convenience of the lazy and the vindictive.

Of course whoever devised the original bus slogan might have known there was a potential elephant trap therein, given that we start from the premise that everything uttered in public is liable to be stretched like elastic and pinged back painfully in its opponents’ goofy face. 

The next example is the famous Corbyn declaration, now set in stone. You know,’friends’. 
That particular verbal gaffe by Corbyn was spectacularly revealing, despite his feeble attempts to neutralise it by claiming he was using the term ‘friends’ in a way that didn’t actually mean ‘friends’. Of course he did mean it in its accepted sense as his behaviour continues to demonstrate. That’s not to say that one couldn’t use the expression ironically, as one might refer to, say, bedbugs as ‘our little friends’, but Jeremy Corbyn was patently not using the term ironically. In fact trying to excuse himself so disingenuously merely highlighted his duplicitousness. However, I wish Corbyn’s critics wouldn’t settle for constantly repeating the word, instead of taking the trouble to probe deeply into his true relationship with terrorists and antisemites.

There are numerous examples of people being hoist by their own injudicious remarks, often uttered in private and outed by some eavesdropping meanie. Some people believe that private conversations should remain private, for example the private banter between Jon Sopel and John Humphrys in which they joke about their massive you-know-whats. Yes, it was mean to ‘out’ it, but the joke still rankles.

So, what did John McDonnell mean when he recounted someone else’s remark about poor Esther McVey? Was he endorsing or merely ‘just sayin’? After all, they say a retweet is not an endorsement; however, I would guess that he was virtually endorsing, if only because of his conspicuous contempt for Esther McVey and the Tories. On the other hand, as I keep repeating, I don’t think the sound clip would have shed significant light on the matter, and for that reason, with regret, on this occasion I’m with Burley.  

So, here’s the final example I’m bringing you. It’s Jackie Walker on yesterday’s Daily Politics. What was her sledgehammer of the day? 

Jackie Walker is by no means the first person to pluck Boris’s throwaway witticism out of its context in order to pitch Boris as a racist.   

Must Boris now be emasculated? Must he curb his imaginative language lest it triggers a deadly ping-back?  Intent! That’s the thing. While I’m willing to agree that John McDonnell probably would laugh if something bad happened to Esther McVey and Jeremy Corbyn actually does have warm feelings for Hamas and  Hezbollah and the Two Jonnies probably do feel a bit gloaty over their huge pay-packets, but I’m sure Boris’s ‘piccaninnies and watermelon’ witticism does not represent his feelings towards people of African descent. 

No-one should be allowed to get away with using the lazy, sledgehammer soundbite as an ‘off-switch’ . It ought to be challenged, regardless of who is doing it or which “side” they are on. We rely on a handful of media personalities, some of whom have grown too big for their boots, to challenge and  expose corruption, deception, stupidity and opportunistic party political bandwagoning, but have they the appetite for doing so?


  1. I listened to the clip of McDonnell. Yes, McDonnell doesn't actually ask for McVey to be lynched but there was no need to mention the incident unless he either supports it or finds it humorous. So "intent" to in some way threaten McVey was there for me.

    Whether meant humorously or violently, it fits the perception of "some people" that violence is only just below the surface with McDonnell. And clearly explodes the "kinder gentler politics" claim of Corbyn.

    So Marr was right to ask him about it, and I log it in my "what is McDonnell" really like memory bank.

    Re Jackie Walker, what she says about Boris does not change my perception that he is not racist and does say and write cleverly. She did confirm my view that Jackie Walker is just a nasty person to make the claim.

  2. "whoever devised the original bus slogan" it was probably some idiot PR person. Any sensible person would have used the actual figure handed over per annum: £10 billion (that was the best estimate back then). That sounds a lot more impressive than £350 million per week. Boris and Gove should be criticised for a worrying lack of effective oversight rather than for the actual figure.

    On the McDonnell Guest Editor scandal, I think it was a scandal, to offer an interviewee in hot water over a speech the editorial control over that speech. The idea that McDonnell was quoting the line to criticise it is untenable, so either he approved of it or felt neutral about it. To have heard his tone of voice would have been very helpful.

  3. FINALLY - weeks after the story first emerged, and only after CNN broke ranks and reported on it, the BBC are mentioning the FBI-FISA scandal...

    But it is only being done obliquely. If you want to see a master class in obfuscation, read the article above by pro-Democrat American, Anthony Zurcher. The last he wants is for you to understand what is going on. If you want to find out, then look at Hannity's summaries on Fox News.

    1. FOX do a daily news summary podcast which I find is a great balance to the BBC. Not saying it's perfect but it's essential to obtain another viewpoint to the ultra liberal BBC.

    2. Agreed - they definitely have their biases...but they cover news that the BBC hides.

    3. The open thread is thataway ▽

  4. Jo Coburn seemed to concentrate entirely on Jackie Walker’s sledgehammers. There was no attempt at all to take her to task about what she actually believes. It was all too easy for her to slither out of it by quoting one of Boris’s ill-judged comments - as if one cancelled out the other.

    As unpleasant as John McDonnell’s anecdote appears to have been I find his political philosophy far more threatening to the well-being of the country.


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