Hacker: Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.
“A Conflict of Interest” from Yes, Prime Minister (31 Dec 1987).
The British television sitcom, Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister, are amongst my favorite television shows. The humor and political insight of the series written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynch remains as fresh and sharp today as it did twenty five years ago.
The exchange above between Prime Minister Jim Hacker, Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby, and his private secretary Bernard Woolley is a treat. The setting for this scene is the Cabinet Room at No. 10 Downing Street. Hacker is vexed by his poor press and is worried that the situation will become worse as there are rumors of a scandal in the City (London’s financial hub). Sir Humphrey advises him not to act unless the rumors turn out to be true, while Bernard counsels the P.M. not to worry about what the newspapers say. This advice was foolish, Hacker responds, launching the set piece about the prejudices and readership of the British press.
Twenty five years later these stereotypes largely hold true. Perhaps a modern version would drop the Communist Party newspaper The Morning Star — the joke being they want another country, the Soviet Union, to run Britain — not being relevant today. A modern retelling, however, could insert The Independent in its place, with the joke being the Independent is very keen on the European Union. Not as good a joke as the original, I concede.
The place of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph might also be swapped — with the Mail being the more conservative — or cranky — of the two.
To understand the joke a viewer would have to understand that the British press is cheerfully biased. Each paper holds strong editorial positions and its news coverage is often driven by its editorial line. Taken as a whole, this is not such a bad thing. When one is able to read the coverage in the Guardian alongside that of the Times, Telegraph and others a thoughtful reader gets a well-rounded view of events.
Here lies one of the differences between the U.S. and U.K. media market. The New York Times is as driven by a left-liberal political agenda like the Guardian — yet there is no Telegraph or Times to balance its coverage. Speaking in very broad terms, the closest U.S. analogy might be the Washington Post v. Washington Times rivalry — yet the Washington papers have such unequal resources, circulation and influence they do not quite fit the bill.
However, when the British press are good, they are very very good — I would say the best in the world when the advocacy format seeks truth and moral virtue — and delivers a great story. But when they are bad, the British press is dreadful — with advocacy gone wild.
An example of a truly awful advocacy article can be found in the Daily Mail‘s coverage of the service at St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Now I enjoy beating the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, about the head and shoulders with a stick as much as the next man — an Amelkite to be smote hip and thigh. But there is a difference between disagreement and vilification — and the Daily Mail story is cruel.
The headline of the story sets the tone. “Archbishop of Canterbury uses Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving sermon to preach about his pet issues of City greed and the environment”.
The subtitles drive home this point for the reader who still may have doubts.
Outgoing Archbishop has a reputation for being controversial and holding liberal views
He previously questioned the legitimacy of the Coalition in a left-wing political magazine
HORRORS — Dr. Williams hates sin, loves the environment and is a liberal who has written in a left wing magazine. They might as well have added that he is a sandal-wearing, pacifist, socialist, hairy weird beard who lacks a sense of rhythm. (The sight of Dr. Williams bopping in time to Stevie Wonder singing “Superstition” at the Queen’s Jubilee concert made me cringe.)
The lede is not shy in telling us what is wrong with Dr. Williams.
The Archbishop of Canterbury made a pointed remark about the traps of ‘ludicrous financial greed’ and ‘environmental recklessness’ as he praised the Queen’s selfless service to others and urged the nation to follow her example.
Dr Rowan Williams could not resist politicising his thanksgiving sermon yesterday at St Paul’s Cathedral celebrating the Diamond Jubilee.
He made reference to several cherished Left-wing causes as he stated that the ‘challenge’ this jubilee sets us is to make sacrifices in pursuit of ‘a shared joy far greater than narrow individual fulfilment’.
The Mail then justifies its claims of liberal lunacy by quoting from the sermon.
He said: ‘Moralists, archbishops included, can thunder away as much as they like; but they’ll make no difference unless and until people see that there is something transforming and exhilarating about the prospect of a whole community rejoicing together – being glad of each other’s happiness and safety.
‘This alone is what will save us from the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal – and many more things that we see far too much of, around us and within us.’
Dr Williams’ views on bankers and the environment are well known.
What sermon did the Mail hear? True, it did not call Dr. Williams a vacuous toffee-nosed malodorous pervert. But this article is so over the top in its abuse and exaggerated sense of horror that it is just silly — Pythonesque.
I wonder who the Mail is trying to cultivate with this article, which is little more than abuse — a sustained attack on Dr. Williams’ character, person and office. It does not appear to be conservatives for at the end of the article it takes Dr. Williams to task for not pushing gay clergy and women bishops. Perhaps there is a constituency that dislikes liberals, the Welsh and social conservatives?
Dr Williams, who was selected as Archbishop of Canterbury in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year in 2002, has a reputation for being liberal and controversial.
Many voiced doubt before he took the role as he backed the separation of church and state in England. He has been critical of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in political statements he has made over the years.
He was also in the reformer’s camp on both the issue of women bishops and openly gay clergy, but in the face of huge opposition from the conservative element of the church he has been forced to sit on the fence, pleasing no-one.
In 2009 he was forced to defend his controversial comments about the introduction of Islamic law to Britain.
Perhaps I am too close to the story, having written about Dr. Williams in hundreds of stories over the years, but to my eyes appears to be more about animus than reporting. As journalism it is junk. Tabloid trash without the girls on page 3.
What say you GetReligion readers? Trash or treasure from the Daily Mail?