Dont think — just report

I followed a link from Jeff Jarvis’s Blog to Armando Ianucci’s Tate Britain lecture, and was very glad I did. He was talking about why British comedy now has so much political content. One passage stopped me in my tracks:

Comedy is so prevalent now, it’s cool by association. So politicians speak and act according to the rhythms of comedy. Labour trying to portray Cameron as a chameleon – it’s an attempted sketch.

This has come about for three reasons: politicians have stopped speaking to us properly, the media has stopped examining their actions in anything like a forensic way, and broadcast culture has become so watered down, so scared of fact, that people are less inclined to turn to anything other than entertainment for information.

Broadcast journalism today promotes itself not so much on what it talks about but on the method it uses: “Broadcasting 24 hours a day, correspondents in over 50 capital cities, giving you all the headlines every 15 minutes, up to six generations of journalists gathered in one newsroom, making you feel all the news you want to feel, even on Christmas Day.” Hi-tech software and speedy transmission makes everything instant news, but we lose sight of the skilled individuals who can process this random unstoppable flow of information and somehow construct a meaningful examination of it. We need narrative.

I found myself hungry for narrative in the build-up to the war in Iraq. Here, surely, were facts – or, indeed, a glaring absence of facts – that required piecing together. Here, surely, it was clear that political debate was operating on a curiously surreal level. We were being asked to attack a country on the basis that the weapons we knew (but couldn’t prove) it had would definitely be used against us, especially if we attacked it. This Alice Through the Looking Glass logic has continued after the invasion. Now, it seems, it was necessary to have invaded Iraq to rid the world of the terrorist cells who have flooded into the country since it was invaded. The terrorist attacks in London and mainland Europe since are, officially, unconnected with the invasion of a country that was invaded because it had links with terrorist attacks in mainland Europe.

My favourite quotation from the eminently quotable George Bush is a remark he made last year about the constant attacks on US troops in Iraq: “The insurgents are being defeated; that’s why they’re continuing to fight.” It’s a stunning reversal of all logic. Measuring success in terms of how far you are from success. An even stranger utterance came from Tony Blair at Labour’s 2004 Conference when he defended his actions by saying: “Judgments aren’t the same as facts. Instinct is not science. I only know what I believe.

“I only know what I believe.” I find that one of the most chilling statements uttered by a seemingly rational politician. Apart from the fact that it overturns about 16 centuries of western philosophy and questions the entire principle of scientific inquiry, it’s also, surely, how the Taliban get through their day…

Afterwards… I found it hard to believe that Blair had said that, so I checked with the text. He did say it.

I’m also reminded of the “balance as bias” phenomenon which came up in a something I posted in 2003 about Paul Krugman’s Harvard lecture.