Issue 230 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
What in the world is happening at the Guardian, the paper many on the left looked to during the Tory years, the paper that for a period retained an arm's length suspicion of the right wing thrust of Blair's New Labour? Over the last few months this healthy cynicism has been dwindling and over past weeks has all but evaporated.
Three recent events have confirmed this drift away from a quality campaigning paper to one that seems to want to nestle firmly in the bosom of the Blairites. Firstly came the sacking of Mark Steel. Mark's column was the most consistently trenchant in its hostility to Blair of all the left wing columnists, and is said to have been hated at Millbank. Mark has been given an assortment of reasons for his dismissal privately---and another hotch potch of reasons have been stated publicly--but there is little doubt that the real reason is the tone and politics of what was an excellent column.
The second blatant instance of Blairite drift came on the weekend of 10 and 11 April when two sizeable demonstrations took place against aspects of government policy. On the Saturday over 30,000 marched In Newcastle against low pay, and on the Sunday over 5,000 marched in London against the war. The Guardian never reported either demonstration.
The failure to mention the anti-war demo was indicative of the very worst aspect of the paper's decline--its support for, and coverage of, the war. The paper has been a disgrace on the question. Despite its letters page being heavily anti-war, its editorial, its comment and its columnists have overwhelmingly been pro-war. There is hardly any anti-war sentiment from the main body of the paper--even less following Steel's sacking.
It is not just that the paper is pro-war that shocks--rather it is the untypically arrogant certainty with which it takes its stance. It has become the mouthpiece for the cruise missile liberals and the Stealth bomber 'socialists'. Even columnists who have a radical reputation, like Francis Wheen, seem to have cast all measured thought to one side, and instead appear to take inspiration from the war adventures of Biggles and the patriotism of Orwell.
Wheen has used his column to attack the left's loss of moral authority, and its isolationist cowardice. So his response to Tony Benn's less then helpful point that Henry Kissinger is opposed to the bombing was, 'Well, of course he is: mass murdering war criminals have a tendency to stick together.' Actually, they frequently don't, Francis. Indeed just a few days later Kissinger wrote a piece in the LA Times under the heading, 'Why I have changed my mind about moving in our army.' Kissinger goes on to explain that he now supports ground troops in order to 'maintain Nato credibility'. Which is of course what the whole bloody business is all about.
The Guardian's major crimes aren't, however, the misguided muddle of columnists who really should know better, but its bewilderingly biased reportage of what's going on.
Take, for example, the Nato attack on the Kosovan convoy--the policy of killing people in order to protect their freedom. While people like Robert Fisk in the Independent were going to considerable lengths to prove Nato responsibility, with what was an excellent piece of investigative journalism, the Guardian appeared determined to maintain the Nato inspired muddle of misinformation.
On Friday 16 April the paper's headline was a Nato quote of self justification, and the front page was divided into two columns: 'The view from the air: the pilot's view' and 'The view from the ground. the victim's view'.
The view from the air turned out to be nothing of the sort; on Monday 19 April on page two the paper carried an article entitled 'Pilot tape was not of refugee bomber', although it neglected to mention that this was the same tape that had been splashed over the front page three days before. Both the original story and the amended version were little more than official Nato press briefings.
As for the view from the ground, it carried the following gem: 'The only crumb of comfort for the alliance was the deportees' unwillingness to blame it'--in other words, 'Yippee. They think the Serbs did it.' The paper that produced this piece of garbage then had the nerve to run a headline that went, 'Lying in a field, the grisly evidence the Serbs wanted us to see. This was just a sophisticated version of the Sun's 'Our bombs, their fault' headline.
Indeed, the paper's real concern appeared to be not the human disaster of the bombing, but its impact on public opinion. By Tuesday 20 April the paper was talking in relieved terms of how the bombing had only 'briefly threatened to erode public support for the allied campaign of air attacks against Yugoslavia'.
Ah yes, in the new fearless and now wonderfully redesigned Guardian, 'The paper that supports our bombs', you can get regurgitated Nato press releases, blame Nato bombs on Serb photographers, sack independently minded columnists, ignore demonstrations and protests--all that and still only 45p.
Still, plenty of lining for my cat's litter tray. Thankfully, she can't read.