The future’s shite, the future’s blogging

by chabonsby

A few days ago whilst trawling the job sites I came across this, a job I’m typically under-qualified for. The most interesting part was this:

You’ll be required to have expertise in the workings of the Labour Party. You’ll have a comprehensive knowledge of the Labour Party and a good awareness of constitutional affairs.

Being not a complete imbecile, I recognised that the BBC Political Research Unit must employ party-specific analysts, which I hadn’t known but makes perfect sense. So you can imagine my bemusement to see this inoffensive job ad reappear as the latest bit of incoherent grist for British politics’ most banal and destructive mill. Or, to be more depressingly accurate, the leading light of British political blogging. Now, Paul Staines and his sidekick Harry Cole, the veritable Beeblebrox behind ‘Guido Fawkes’, are many things, but I strongly doubt they are lobotomised. As such, when one of those bizarre creatures of the Right that lurk the internet looking for evidence of ‘cultural marxism’ and the like excitedly emailed this in, whichever one of the braintrust does the actual blogging these days (presumably Cole) will have known full well that there was nothing to see here. Unsurprisingly this didn’t stop him, because even running a website supposedly read by hundreds of members of parliament doesn’t imbue in these men any sense of responsibility to be truthful.

Whilst tame compared to some of its brethren across the Atlantic, Guido Fawkes is about as bad as it gets in high profile British blogging, but it is simply the highest peak in a mountain of shit. There is an utter lack of integrity in vast swathes political blogging, of which this nonsense is merely a particularly inane example, and it’s doing so much damage already that one can only look to the likely future primacy of the internet with dread. There are thousands of examples of just this one facet of the evils of internet media every single day, wherein a blog invents a story based on little to nothing, and all its fellow travellers leap aboard and ride the bandwagon roughshod over any standards of integrity and critical thinking one might hope political commentators to have.

A particularly memorable example to me, for the permanent impression of political blogging it left me with, was a quiet day in the midst of the god-awful 2008 US presidential race. Barack Obama, in a speech to veterans, mentioned that his uncle had been part of the liberation of Auschwitz, and that it had had a horrible effect on the man. A brief personal relation to the horrors of war, or so you’d think. Subsequently all hell broke loose, with the usual suspects frothing at the mouth about Obama’s supposed deceit. For an entire day I watched as the outrage built to a crescendo, with this being an apt example. Except, of course, there was no deceit, merely a simple semantic mistake, as Obama’s uncle had actually been at Buchenwald. An unfortunate mistake, but with Auschwitz having become virtually synonymous with the holocaust for many, not an especially surprising one. But what proportion of the hundreds of thousands who lapped up that outrage ever learned the truth? It simply isn’t about being accurate, it’s about being first and being loudest. It’s about winning, regardless of means or consequences.

And perhaps the most depressing habit comes when bloggers are called out on their distortions, and, for whatever reason, feel the need to correct their initial and usually deliberate ‘mistake’. On these rare occasions they follow an even worse version of the tabloids’ trusty ‘one inch retraction on page 17’. The done thing is to update the initial post, several days later, and with the details of the inevitably half-hearted retraction below the jump. It’s the equivalent of screaming accusations at someone in a public place, and then muttering under your breath that you made them up. Three days later. At four in the morning.

Despite the great work done across the world by many bloggers, there can be no doubt that, much like their print forerunners, the most successful by far are a feckless nightmare of deceit, partisanship and astroturfing. Worse, it is almost certain that blogs and other online news and opinion sources are going to edge out traditional media in the long-run. And while the good of blogging is often better than print, the bad is so, so much worse, and there is nothing that can be done. Calling for regulation of the press is equal parts unsettling and pointless, so hoping for regulation of political blogging would be Canutesque. Equally unlikely is a slowing of the rising tide of influential bloggers, and so the nightmare scenario is that the likes of Drudge or Fawkes will gain the influence and prestige of a Fox News or a News of the World without even their modicum of standards and accountability. Ideally you could convince bloggers to adopt some kind of code of conduct, but if self-regulation achieved next to nothing with the press, it’ll get nowhere online. There are many out there, on all angles of the political spectrum, who abound with integrity, but we all know that their already limited share of the traffic is only going to be further marginalised as the web’s importance grows. Sadly, such people are, to co-opt Henry Winter’s recent wonderful turn of phrase, broadsheet men and women in the most tabloid world imaginable.

Returning to Fawkes, I ventured into the comments to see how many people were calling the site out on its nonsensical innuendo. Aside from killing another small part of my humanity, it was worthwhile because someone had been good enough to root out a recent job ad for another position in the beeb’s political affairs unit, which included the following requirement:

You will be required to have a good working knowledge of and expertise in the Conservative Party.

‘Shameless’ doesn’t even begin to cover it…