An intriguing story began to emerge this morning which provides a new dimension to the recent furore over the supposedly ‘sexist’ petition to remove Laura Kuenssberg from her role as political editor of BBC News. This petition originally began and garnered support over what some people viewed as flagrantly biased reporting over the recent council election results. Within a very short amount of time the petition became major news across most major outlets: not because of its content, but because of a supposedly sexist anti-woman agenda that had turned into a tide of misogynist hatred online.
Labour had by what any normal criteria would be regarded as a pretty good set of results in the recent local and mayoral elections, despite a massive, concerted and orchestrated campaign against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership (which goes back almost a year). Yet the narrative in the mainstream media, notably in the BBC and Guardian, has been that Corbyn is a disaster for the Labour Party and that all aspects of his record to date show he is ‘unelectable’. For years the BBC has been derided for biased political reporting, in particular for its pathetic coverage of popular demonstrations against government policy and anything to do with the trade unions or left-wing politics. Kuenssberg’s reporting in the aftermath of the election results became a lightning rod for anger against the BBC–a publicly-funded, and supposedly neutral and accountable broadcaster. However, within hours any discussion of the actual issue had been derailed in favour of a chorus of voices uniting against sexism.
The question is… where was this sexism? This morning, evidence of the actual comments on the petition emerged which reveal a great deal of legitimate and considered anger against the BBC and a negligible (if any) amount of sexist abuse. The sexist abuse that was associated with the petition seems largely to consist of the sort of statements by random trolls on the internet which appear in relation to any news story. There certainly does not seem to be anything like the critical mass of abusive content that would justify the media backlash against the petition, or for the 38 degrees website to take down the petition. Now: evidence is still coming out, and there may be stuff we haven’t seen which shows there was a widespread misogynist campaign, but for now the distinct impression is that the actions of a few toxic individuals on the internet have been used by the mainstream media to orchestrate another campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.
The media has a great deal of history on this subject. One of the lowlights of the Labour leadership election last year was a risible story whipped up by the media over the subject of ‘women only carriages’ on public transport. Corbyn was asked about the issue of harassment of women on public transport, which he condemned. On the subject of women-only carriages, he gave the impression he was not in favour but would consult with the public (and women specifically) and consider it if there was significant support for such a move. This was turned by the media into outright support for women-only carriages–as if Corbyn was arguing for it as policy–and used by the other leadership candidates to attack him for accepting harassment of women. Anyone willing to engage their brain could see the whole thing was ridiculous and concocted by the media (all of whom opposed him then and now) as a desperate and sinister attempt to make Corbyn’s women supporters favour instead one of the two female candidates.
More recently, the Labour Party was subjected to an obscene smear campaign trying to make out that it is riddled with anti-Semitism–while they were running a Muslim for London mayor agianst a Tory of German-Jewish and French descent. Leaving aside that the Tory Party is much more likely to be teeming with anti-Semites than Labour, it should be obvious that any mass party with hundreds of thousands of supporters will inevitably have a few crackpot members and a few who have extreme and offensive views. But the idea that the Labour Party somehow has a ‘problem’ with anti-Semitism is manifestly absurd. That is, unless you equate anti-Semitism with any and all criticism of the policies and actions of the Israeli state, which certain sections of the neo-conservative right do. Generally speaking, the so-called liberal media don’t go in for this themselves: unless it can help them score points against Jeremy Corbyn.
The readiness of the Guardian and the BBC to propagate such stories is not only sickening on the face of it, but points to a fundamental moral corruption in their reporting of news and current affairs. This is something you expect from the right-wing press, most of which is directly owned by media moguls tied to major financial or other business interests. But the role played by the ostensibly ‘objective’ media outlets in such smear campaigns points to an utter absence of moral integrity or intellectual honesty. In siding with right-wing forces against Corbyn and his supporters, they also, ironically, strengthen forces that are hostile to their own existence; as recent Tory attacks on the role of the BBC show. The idea of independent public broadcasting has long been cherished by progressive movements, but the moral and intellectual degeneration of the BBC signifies an institution which needs tearing up at the roots.
As for the Guardian, Frankie Boyle and Aditya Chakrabortty are just about the only journalists worth reading. Seumas Milne is working for Corbyn now; Owen Jones wrote one good book (Chavs) and seems to have spent the years since styling himself as someone who could be trusted to braintrust for a future Labour government. For all his fixation with changing the paradigms of political discourse which he discussed in his book The Establishment, he devotes most of his time to rebutting idiotic ‘Big Lie’ allegations against the Labour Party over issues such as sexism and anti-Semitism.
One of the issues all this reveals is how the vogue for identity politics is increasingly used by the liberal bourgeois establishment to go after left-wing and minority groups. Rights for women, gays, and transgender people were central to progressive social struggles from the 1970s onwards, and rights in place today were generally the result of strikes and social protest by trade unions, women and oppressed social groups. Women and ethnic minorities remain oppressed sections of society; women in Britain suffer from lower wages, workplace discrimination, and sexual violence and intimidation. But the regular use of concepts like ‘sexism’ to attack women’s rights advocate Corbyn, for the crime of seeming to stand for a better world and apart from the bourgeois political establishment, is simply another example of the tried-and-tested technique of capitalist divide-and-rule.