Oh dear Polly

She manages to ingore once again the basic fact that newspaper chase the prejudices of their readers, not form them.

Never forget what Labour is up against: 80% of newspaper readership for a hundred years has belonged not just to conservatives, but mainly to extreme maverick press barons, using their power to control politics.

We really are in Brecht territory here, needing to elect a new populace.

16 thoughts on “Oh dear Polly”

  1. Surely, a feedback loop. I find it hard to believe that Daily Mail readers are born that way, so they must be getting it from somewhere, and it’s not unreasonable to consider that they’re at least partially getting it from the Mail itself. The British newspaper industry seems to have, over its history, developed a potent formula of mixing pablum and bile in just the right quantities, do they not?

  2. There is an element of both going on. But the Graun engages in it just as much as the Wail. The only real difference is the Graun indoctrinates less obviously, uses longer words, and fewer pictures of scantily-clad celebrities.

  3. The readers “belong” to press barons?

    I know the Left used to be fond of calling systems they disliked “feudalism”, but this seems to be taking the idea of “press barons” a little too literally.

  4. “elect a new populace”

    Don’t be silly Tim. It is much easier to just imprison them in the Gulag.

  5. “the basic fact that newspapers chase the prejudices of their readers, not form them”. So that’s a basic fact, eh? Not in my neck of the woods, it ain’t. Anybody care to defend that statement?

  6. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘The British newspaper industry seems to have, over its history, developed a potent formula of mixing pablum and bile in just the right quantities, do they not?’

    Indeed, and the Graun is as guilty as the rest of them.

    ‘Anybody care to defend that statement?’

    Yes. The ‘Sun’ backed the Tories right up until the 1992 election, and then changed sides and backed Blair because the opinion polls said that he was a winner. The paper turned away from Labour in 2009 because it looked as though Brown was dead and buried. In each case, its political line followed its readership, rather than setting it.

    The Toynbees of this world will claim that Labour was in the political wilderness from 1979 to 1997 because the bulk of the press was against it. Others might suggest other reasons, mainly linked to the unpopularity of its policies (see, for example, Gerald Kaufman’s description of the party’s 1983 manifesto as ‘the longest suicide note in history’).

  7. If someone thought it would find a big enough readership there would be a newspaper touting UKIP. As there isn’t, there isn’t; which would seem to bear Tim out.

    Tim adds: We can go further. At the euro elections UKIP does have substantial support. At the euro elections we did get two newspaqpers. Admittedly, Express and Sport, but hey…..

  8. The opinion polls had Labour ahead in 1992, right up until they lost. Either Murdoch has supernatural powers of political prediction, or the Sun’s near-unprecedented levels of Kinnock-bashing reflected his desire to shape the outcome.

    Meanwhile, Rupert had a good relationship with Mr T Blair, and a dreadful relationship with Mr G Brown (who, not coincidentally, remains friends with Mr P Dacre). The News tabloids pasted Brown from before he was PM, and long before they formally endorsed the Tories.

    Now, obviously, there aren’t going to be many Mad Mels who go from fervent Guardianista to fervent Daily Maily after reading a copy of the latter.

    But for people who start off broadly in the middle, it shows a ridiculous lack of understanding of human nature to believe that the ‘facts’ they’re presented with won’t shape their political opinions. And the ‘facts’ in the Daily Mail are different from the ‘facts’ in the Sun are different from the ‘facts’ in the Guardian, in a way that’s shaped by those papers’ political biases.

    On Nick’s point, the Telegraph gets awfay close to UKIP territory, on a fairly regular basis these days. Harumph harumph, this TINO Cameron shamelessly abandoning our principles for his pinko Liberal cronies, etc etc.

  9. “The News tabloids pasted Brown from before he was PM, and long before they formally endorsed the Tories.”
    The news papers supported Brown when he became PM, right up until he ducked calling an early election.

  10. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘The opinion polls had Labour ahead in 1992, right up until they lost. Either Murdoch has supernatural powers of political prediction, or the Sun’s near-unprecedented levels of Kinnock-bashing reflected his desire to shape the outcome’.

    Or Neil Kinnock screwed up with his misplaced triumphalism during the Sheffield rally. Or Major’s soapbox campaign was more effective than originally considered. Or Labour still had a lot of baggage from the 1980s, and wasn’t entirely trusted by the electorate.

    Have you considered any of the above?

    ‘Meanwhile, Rupert had a good relationship with Mr T Blair’

    Which mainly had to do with backing a winner. Labour’s poll ratings were exceeding the Tories well before the ‘Sun’ switched sides, and it was pretty obvious to all but the most fanatical Conservative that the Major government was falling apart at the seams.

    ‘and a dreadful relationship with Mr G Brown (who, not coincidentally, remains friends with Mr P Dacre)’.

    News International turned against Brown in 2009. Before then the ‘Sun’ had given Cameron a pasting, not least for the so-called ‘hug a hoodie’ speech.

    ‘The News tabloids pasted Brown from before he was PM, and long before they formally endorsed the Tories’.

    Wrong, as per my comments above. You should also bear in mind that even with NI’s backing, the Tories failed to win an outright majority in 2010.

    ‘But for people who start off broadly in the middle, it shows a ridiculous lack of understanding of human nature to believe that the ‘facts’ they’re presented with won’t shape their political opinions’.

    You’re assuming that newspaper readers are so stupid that they can be brainwashed by copy. You are also assuming that they can’t get news from other sources (television? blogs?), and you’re also assuming that over the course of time they may not change their minds and their ideological beliefs.

  11. S&A: re-read what I wrote at 12. The point isn’t that it’s solely The Sun Wot Won It, but rather that it wasn’t conventional wisdom that the Tories would win, so you can’t explain 1992 by “Murdoch backs the side that’s expected to win”. Yes, it’s likely that all three of the things you cite were important. But we know that in retrospect, and not even the people running the Tory campaign knew it at the time.

    On the final point, yes, I broadly am. Not because people are stupid, and not because anyone believes editorials, but because if you read a paper that selectively prints dozens of (true) stories a week about VILE CRIME BY IMMIGRANTS, you’re going to end up with a very different picture of what’s going on than if you read a paper that selectively prints dozens of (true) stories a week about VILE HATE CRIMES AGAINST MINORITIES.

  12. John B’s final paragraph is correct, and there’s considerable supporting evidence available online by way of academic papers.

    Newscorp is particularly interesting because, unusually amongst press barons, Rupert Murdoch is very open about his views on a day to day basis and they are more nuanced than is often supposed, and may indeed include support for the Labour Party from time to time. But the fact remains that the Murdoch press does reflect his views, and is at some pains to do so.

  13. Roughly speaking, in recent general elections the Murdoch papers have backed the winner (they all agree, despite claims of editorial independence), the Telegraph, Mail, Express, and Star back the Tories, the Mirror backs Labour, and the Guardian backs one or more of the non-Tories. To characterize this overall as “chasing the prejudices of their readers” strikes me as inconsistent with election returns.

  14. sackcloth and ashes

    ‘The point isn’t that it’s solely The Sun Wot Won It, but rather that it wasn’t conventional wisdom that the Tories would win, so you can’t explain 1992 by “Murdoch backs the side that’s expected to win”’.

    In this case, he got lucky. In 2010, he went with conventional wisdom (that Labour were going to get thumped) and he lost.

    ‘Not because people are stupid, and not because anyone believes editorials, but because if you read a paper that selectively prints dozens of (true) stories a week about VILE CRIME BY IMMIGRANTS, you’re going to end up with a very different picture of what’s going on than if you read a paper that selectively prints dozens of (true) stories a week about VILE HATE CRIMES AGAINST MINORITIES’.

    As they say, propaganda tells you what you’re already thinking. If you made it compulsory for a ‘Daily Mail’ reader to subscribe to the ‘Guardian’ for a month, I doubt very much that he/she will change his/her mind.

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