Exchange of Emails with Michael White, Assistant Editor of The Guardian

My email exchange with Michael White about the corporate bias of his 'left-liberal' newspaper and the inability of anyone there to answer the criticisms of Pilger, Chomsky, Herman and MediaLens about The Guardian's contribution to thought control in a democratic society. Mostly politics and mostly predictable evasions from a company man - didn't get into deeper, sweeter, waters - so readers who prefer to avoid silly spodwrangles should probably avoid this post and build a floating cathedral of fire instead.

First Email To MW:

Dear Michael White,

I recently read your article on MediaLens (ML) in which you dismiss their nuanced and thoughtful analysis (of the Guardian's systematic corporate bias). I wonder if you have read their most recent alert? I would very much like to know if you can respond to it in detail without resorting to ad hominems ('the two Davids are childish'), straw man arguments ('MedlaLens can be discounted because the far right also criticise the Guardian') or casual dismissals ('we were against Blair during the Chilcot enquiry').

This last refutation - that the Guardian joined in bashing Blair during the Chilcot enquiry - doesn't go very far, factwise, in the face of all the evidence MediaLens present to show that the Guardian has a deep and destructive establishment bias. It seems to me that you - or Monbiot or Milne - cannot seriously and methodically answer their criticisms of the Guardian for the very simple reason that they are right - so you throw a little mud and/or ignore the matter.

Please, answer me, does it not strike you, reading MediaLens' alerts, the extraordinary poverty of response they get from the Snows, Boadens and Tisdalls of the (left-liberal) media world? Does this not perhaps suggest - given that nobody in the liberal press has, during ten years of exchanges with ML, offered a reasonable and detailed response to their criticisms - that they might be right? That you might be a corporate lackey? I do not wish to insult you, but I can think of no other term for someone who blindly (meaning unconsciously) follows the party line, without fundamental dissent.

Hoping for a response and very happy to be shown wrong,

All the best


MW's First Response:

Thanks for the note and civil tone...

I don't understand Para 1. Which two Davids are we talking about here? The other points I did not make either, your straw man, not mine.

Para 2 is, I would gently suggest, a matter of opinion. At times the Guardian's views - it contains lots of contradictory views every day of course - are indeed sometimes close to one aspect of 'Establishment' views, though the Establishment no longer really exists as it once did. On other days the paper is far from promoting such views. It's not a simple as you suggest and not helpful to your own understanding to imagine that it it.

It's difficult to answer Para 3 because it's clear what ever I say will not be satisfactory. I sometimes express views that ML might share - I don't think it would be either right or smart to try and bomb Iran's nuclear programme, ugly and depressing though the prospect is of a nuclear-armed theocracy. Some of my colleagues are more hawkish. On other occasions the boot may be on the other foot...

I'm happy for you to call me a corporate lackey who toes the party line if it cheers you up. But in a quiet moment ask yourself "which corporation?" and "which party line?"

sorry to disappoint, but I accept your good intentions. best wishes


My Second Email to MW:

Thank you for your courteous reply Michael. I'm sure you don't have much time to enter into detailed correspondence with readers, but I wonder if you could respond. Here's what I have to say to your points....

I don't understand Para 1. Which two Davids are we talking about here?

David Edwards and David Cromwell - MediaLens. I'm surprised you don't know their names.

The other points I did not make either, your straw man, not mine.

I think you did...

1. You quoted Stephen Poole's use of the word 'childish' and also used the words 'young' and 'narcissistic'. You also said they might 'grow out of' their position.

2. You said that the Guardian is 'mocked and savaged' from the right as well as the left (implying impartiality and moderation).

3. You said there was a distinct lack of pluralism in the Guardian when Blair gave evidence to the Chilcot enquiry.

Para 2 is, I would gently suggest, a matter of opinion. At times the Guardian's views - it contains lots of contradictory views every day of course -

Some views are never expressed - that Chomsky's propaganda model, for example, skews the output of the left-liberal press towards establishment-friendly views - that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wars of aggression waged for the acquisition of resources - that these wars were, in ML's words, 'an integral part of the West's longstanding attempts at global control and subjugation of peoples and natural resources, consistent with the demands of corporate-led capitalism', that the BBC is not impartial, and so on. Other reasonable views - that wealth should be systematically redistributed, that the system (rather than the individual players) is corrupt, that wage slavery is just that - slavery, and I could name many others - are rarely mentioned, if at all, and people that express such views are usually ridiculed or smeared (e.g. Chomsky himself).

are indeed sometimes close to one aspect of "Establishment" views, though the Establishment no longer really exists as it once did.

I am using 'Establishment' not to mean the nation state, but the 'corporate state' (of which the nation state is 'shadow' - to use John Dewey's expression - the law maker, police force and puppet show).

It's difficult to answer Para 3 because it's clear what ever I say will not be satisfactory.

Are you certain that this is the reason it is difficult to answer? I think it is within your power to take a long, detailed and reasonable look at ML's long, well-researched, courteous and trenchant analysis of the Guardian's subservience to corporate interests. What I am asking is why you - or anyone in the left-liberate press - do not, or cannot, give it the response it deserves? 

I sometimes express views that ML might share - I don't think it would be either right or smart to try and bomb Iran's nuclear programme, ugly and depressing though the prospect is of a nuclear-armed theocracy.

This is besides the point. ML are not merely expressing 'views' about the world, they are putting these views into a context - it is this context (shared by Chomsky and Pilger) which you do not address, which nobody addresses in the Guardian.

I'm happy for you to call me a corporate lackey who toes the party line if it cheers you up.

It does not cheer me up - it just seems the most appropriate description. As I said I do not wish to insult you, as you really seem to be a pleasant person. But how else to describe someone who tows (sic!) the party line of the corporation he works for?

But in a quiet moment ask yourself "which corporation?"

Now's a quiet moment! Of course the Guardian is owned, not by a corporation, but by a 'trust' - one which, along with the Guardian Media Group board (still owner of Auto Trader? I don't keep up with the business news), has connections with the Labour party, Cadbury Schweppes, Tesco, KPMG Corporate Finance, the chemicals company Hickson International Plc, Fenner Plc, the investment management company Rathbone Brothers Plc, (now bankrupt) global investment company Lehman Brothers, global financial services firm Morgan Stanley and the Bank of England. In addition most of its journalists are Oxbridge graduates, and it is almost entirely financed from advertising revenue. Company / Trust / Establishment / Corporation - you'll forgive me if I find the distinction between these words academic.

and "which party line?"

The company / trust / corporation / establishment you work for. The 'line' of course is unspoken and in most cases completely unconscious. I have written about how it works here, if you can find the time (and the peace of mind).

sorry to disappoint,

No disappointment, because no expectations. I expected your response would be more or less as it was.

but I accept your good intentions.

Thank you, and I accept your

best wishes

Kindness


MW's Second Response:

thanks for further note. For a moment I sensed a reassuring spark of connection close here, so am replying over first kitchen cuppa of the day.

Yes, that must be the two Davids, as you say. i must have known that once, I did know it, but had forgotten. They wd have been " young graduates" in 2001- not so young now. Some people change over time, others don't. Good or bad ? Discuss? Probably both. i think we remain basically as we were when young, but experience modifies our views and behaviour, less so character.

I didn't imply anything about the attacks from left and right showing impartiality and moderation - that's an old saw and it's not true. I said the right's attacks were more fun, as i recall. That is true, i love the museli-and-sandals joke, never tire of it.

Ah Chomsky ! Here's where I swerve to avoid a pile of poo. I tried Chomskers long ago, read him, compared what he wrote about Central America with what I observed from my visits, went to hear him lecture and thought, " No. he's a clever chap in his field, as he would be the first to admit, but he's not getting this stuff right." I avoid him now.

Put succinctly, for what resources is the "war of aggression" (hollow laughter) being fought in Afghanistan again, remind me. Iraq ? It would have been MUCH cheaper to buy the oil. Modern states don't wage war for land, it's dangerous and expensive, though warlords still do, as we did once.

"Wage slavery," that's complicated, some people have unpleasant or unrewarding jobs - though fewer than ever before in recorded history. Even Chinese factory workers far from home have gone to the city in search of wealth - as country folk have always done. They might not take kindly to a US professor's lordly description.

Blair and the Guardian ? Yep, we seem agreed the pack turned against him.

It's when we get to the Guardian's "subservience to corporate interests" that I start to feel dizzy. That long list of corporations, I'm sure you could explain every one. Yes, I get what you are trying to say, and that you are trying to liberate me from false consciousness, always a patronising concept - but well meant, I realise...

Best wishes and do your best to stay cheerful.
There may be a lovely sunrise out there, waiting just for you.


My Third Email to MW:

Dear Michael,

I don't have much of a history writing to journalists, but nobody likes to be criticised, so thank you again for spending I'm sure valuable time in replying to me without taking umbrage.

I didn't imply anything about the attacks from left and right showing impartiality and moderation - that's an old saw and it's not true. I said the right's attacks were more fun, as i recall. That is true, i love the museli-and-sandals joke, never tire of it.

I see. Thank you for the clarification. But you did suggest that ML are immature and should grow up and cheer up. Would you agree that this is a (largely irrelevant) ad hominem criticism?

Ah Chomsky ! Here's where I swerve to avoid a pile of poo. I tried Chomskers long ago, read him, compared what he wrote about Central America with what I observed from my visits, went to hear him lecture and thought, " No. he's a clever chap in his field, as he would be the first to admit, but he's not getting this stuff right." I avoid him now.

May I ask on what point you disagree with him, and - more importantly - why this point, or points, is enough for you to disregard his work on the media - one that is highly respected, backed up with mountains of evidence and extremely relevant to a journalist such as yourself?

Put succinctly, for what resources is the "war of aggression" (hollow laughter) being fought in Afghanistan again, remind me.

Of course not all wars are specifically fought to acquire resources. We don't know the purpose of the illegal (i.e. with no international authorisation of any kind and violating international law) war of aggression in Aghanistan - internal documents from the US government are difficult to come by - but most likely, given the purpose of past US wars of aggression (as well as covert wars, funding of dictators, etc), it is to gain control over a country of strategic importance (on the edge of oil producing regions), to intimidate the world and to fund the pentagon-based welfare-to-corporations economy. Winning elections might be a factor too. What it is not being fought over is to 'end terror' (I'm assuming you don't believe that the US seriously wants to end terror).

Iraq ? It would have been MUCH cheaper to buy the oil.

Buying oil does not give you control over it though does it? What's more money does not come into it - the money goes to Halliburton, Bechtel, Cargill and company.

"Wage slavery," that's complicated, some people

Some? How many people I wonder work inhumane hours in the factories of China, Thailand, India and the Philippines doing jobs of hideous repetitiveness?* How many people are forced to work for hours and hours in shitty mcjobs and would dearly love to escape (I'm happy to answer the old 'who's forcing them' objection if you make it)? How many people are dying inside doing the same office task, over and over again, and hating it?...

have unpleasant or unrewarding jobs -

Is it not true that most people on earth are forced to sell their labour in a society that systematically impoverishes most of its members and then makes independent community action impossible or illegal?

though fewer than ever before in recorded history.

Leisure, freedom to work creatively in the way that best suits you, free and meaningful participation in a community - these things have occurred throughout history (in the US before the industrial revolution, in the UK before enclosure, etc) and are very common in pre-historical groups.

Even Chinese factory workers far from home have gone to the city in search of wealth - as country folk have always done.

And why have they done so? Country folk in pre-industrial England were either forced off the land (directly or indirectly) or dishonestly seduced  into appalling factories.

Moreover, I'd like to ask you if leaving the underpaid nightmare of peasant toil in order to get more money in the slightly less underpaid nightmare of factory toil a good thing, in your opinion? Or, to put it another way, is it a good thing for prisoners not to be tortured in a muddy field with rusty nails, but in a clean office with television breaks instead?...

Blair and the Guardian ? Yep, we seem agreed the pack turned against him.

I see, and did the Guardian (quoting ML) "urge citizens to vote for Blair, even after his worst crimes had been thoroughly exposed, in 2005"?

It's when we get to the Guardian's "subservience to corporate interests" that I start to feel dizzy. That long list of corporations, I'm sure you could explain every one. Yes, I get what you are trying to say, and that you are trying to liberate me from false consciousness, always a patronising concept - but well meant, I realise.

Is this your response to the main point of my past two emails (which is the main point of Chomsky's years of analysis of left-liberal media-bias and MediaLens' many years of similar analysis) that (again in ML's words) "the corporate nature of the mass media tends to produce performance that defends and furthers the goals of the corporate system."?

Can you see why I originally said that "It seems to me that you - or Monbiot or Milne - cannot seriously and methodically answer their criticisms of the Guardian for the very simple reason that they are right."?

I will read the link you sent me.

Yes, please do, I'd love to know your response, although, I must say, I fear you'll avoid the main point and concentrate on a few details...

Best wishes and do your best to stay cheerful.

Are you suggesting that I am not being light hearted? That I am taking all this too seriously? I wonder - do you think this is a serious matter?

I invite you to check the rest of my blog (which the above link is part of) if you'd like to check my credentials for a sense of humour.

There may be a lovely sunrise out there, waiting just for you.

(Checks) Ahoy - there is! And a much lovelier one in here too.

Thanks for the kind tone Michael. I hope you can find time to respond.

All the best,


MW's Third Response:

thanks for the further note and civil tone. I'll try and be brief because I'm not sure we're going to make much progress.

I read your link about the Guardian/Chomsky affair in which I took a bystander's interest at the time. As I recall harsh feelings remained on both sides after Ian Mayes's adjudication, it reinforced my instinct to stay clear of matters Chomsky-related.

Re-reading the ML account some years later I recoil from the idea of a high-level executive decision at the Guardian to damage NC's reputation. As I often say to people who allege conspiracy (from trivia right up to the 9/11 conspiracy theorists) those they accuse are neither wicked enough nor clever enough to do what they're accused of doing.

In my experience cock-up usually trumps conspiracy But I will dust off my 1988 copy of Manufacturing Consent - I'm sure I still have it - and try again (just for you).

Your own website's link cheered me. What a rich and complex hinterland you have. It was very impressive, albeit mostly not to my personal taste. I thought I detected a prelapsarian wistfulness in some of what I read and suspect there was less scope for dissent and more for manufacturing consent in those early societies than I would care to be on the receiving end of.

i'm not going to respond again to your detailed points. I've previously tried and failed to reach your exacting standards - sorry about that. Glad to note you pulled back a bit from the Afghan oil wells, but don't see the corporate context which you appear to see as the key to explaining the world - the "context" as you and ML like to put it. In that context I thought the Auschwitz? Ikea joke in poor taste, that it spoiled a nice bit of writing.

It's not that a lot of the points you /ML make are not interesting, valid even, and well-known to many who write for a living and are aware of their own limited perspectives and biases. It's the pervasive sense of the world being both a manipulated and oppressive place in which most of us are victims, knaves or fools that puts me off - and may put off others.

Snow here overnight, but it is melting fast.

Best wishes


My Forth Email to MW:

Thank you Michael. You're quite right of course, we're not going to make much progress. Discussions like this never, in my experience, fundamentally change people's attitudes - although that's not to say they are without value, as MediaLens has shown. My final response then...

I read your link about the Guardian/Chomsky affair in which I took a bystander's interest at the time. As I recall harsh feelings remained on both sides after Ian Mayes's adjudication, it reinforced my instinct to stay clear of matters Chomsky-related.

I wonder why - although I can certainly see why it makes good sense for someone high up at the Guardian to 'stay clear of matters Chomsky-related'.

Re-reading the ML account some years later I recoil from the idea of a high-level executive decision at the Guardian to damage NC's reputation. As I often say to people who allege conspiracy (from trivia right up to the 9/11 conspiracy theorists)

(Chomsky and Herman's Propaganda Model is not a conspiracy theory, it is an institutional analysis - very different - and extremely good at predicting how market forces shape corporate press output away from any kind of truth)

those they accuse are neither wicked enough nor clever enough to do what they're accused of doing. In my experience cock-up usually trumps conspiracy

This, as you probably know, is the standard line of the professional manager, explaining away lies and atrocities in terms of stupidity and error rather than criminal intent - although, as I mentioned before, a great deal of dishonesty and criminal intent is unconscious - it is simply impossible for a professional to consciously accept moral responsibility in a corporation (trust / company / establishment) such as yours.

But I will dust off my 1988 copy of Manufacturing Consent - I'm sure I still have it -

I also recommend MediaLen's interview with Alan Rusbridger and Noam Chomksy's superb Interview with Andrew Marr (Chomsky to Marr - "I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.")

and try again (just for you).

...but don't do it on my account.

i'm not going to respond again to your detailed points.

Again?

I've previously tried and failed to reach your exacting standards -

Sorry, when? I asked a few very simple questions. You made many secondary objections, all of which I responded to, without addressing the main point at all. My standards are not 'exacting' - although they are high (particularly when addressing an assistant editor at the Guardian) - all I wanted to know was why nobody at your paper (or the BBC or the Independent) has offered a serious and detailed response to MediaLen's (and Chomsky's) criticisms and main point - that the left-liberal press has a deep and destructive corporate-establishment bias?

sorry about that. Glad to note you pulled back a bit from the Afghan oil wells, but don't see the corporate context which you appear to see as the key to explaining the world - the "context" as you and ML like to put it.

Your response then is simply that 'you don't see it'? Which of course is completely true. When it is explained to you, it annoys, depresses or does nothing for you, and you sweep it aside with generalisations, personal slurs, secondary objections and the like. By the end of this mail you'll have an idea of how I have a chip on my shoulder, an air or superiority, unrealistic standards, etc, or you'll find a couple of secondary points that you can disagree with, and that'll be that. You 'just don't see it'.

But allow me to ask you - what would it mean for your position at the Guardian - indeed in journalism - if you did see it? If you saw that working for a corporation (or corporate trust) that is funded by advertising revenue from other corporations that primarily sources its information from other corporations (and their state-clients) and that bends to flak from powerful corporate lobbies naturally - by its structure (not by conspiratorial groups) - rewarded certain kinds of people, allowed certain writers and journalists to get to the top and weeded out 'troublemakers' and 'non team players' (etc)... What would it mean for your life if you saw that? Would you be able to continue working as a journalist? Anywhere? How many journalists do see such things and write about them in the corporate press?**

Its not about whether wage slavery exists - although it does, everywhere, or whether we illegally invaded Afghanistan, although illegal and immoral it was, or whether the system (rather than the players) is corrupt, although it is... it is why these viewpoints, and many many many more views, reasonable, interesting and non-loopy†, never appear in the Guardian. Why? Why are you depriving people of vital information about how the world works - and not just any people - Guardian readers are some of the most intelligent and powerful people in the country - even the world (as I have discovered from the only place where intelligent dissent is occasionally allowed - the comments)? You said that the Guardian 'contains lots of contradictory views every day' - and yet never these views. Don't you find it a tad strange?

In that context I thought the Auschwitz? Ikea joke in poor taste, that it spoiled a nice bit of writing.

Yes, on matters of taste Guardian writers speak with total authority.

It's the pervasive sense of the world being both a manipulated and oppressive place in which most of us are victims, knaves or fools that puts me off - and may put off others.

I can see why you view this 'pervasive sense' with such distaste. You are, after all, a wealthy and successful man in a well-paid and highly esteemed corporate/trust job. Perhaps, if you ever find yourself in a fundamentally different position in your life you may take a different view. Indeed such changes of circumstance do fundamentally change people's attitudes - and sometimes they look back on conversations such as these, which is one of the reasons to have them.

That and talking with another human being of course, for that is what we both are, after all.

Thank you again Michael,

Best wishes,



** i.e. it is, of course, because he doesn’t see it, that he is where he is today, surrounded by colleagues that don’t see it either.
† Of course this discussion is all on trivial surface concerns. Its in implicit treatment of deep non-political experience - love, death, truth, beauty and the like - that The Guardian - and all media, 'left' or 'right' - controls thought, enervates fundamental dissent and sucks the life out of reality's apple.