Posts Tagged ‘Harold Evans’

The Skwawkbox: Racist Times Cartoon attacking Jeremy Corbyn

October 1, 2016

This is yet another story about racism, though this time it’s about the deeply entrenched racism of the Murdoch press, and how they’re now trying to play it against Jeremy Corbyn.

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece from the Skwawkbox commenting on a racist cartoon in the Times. The Skwawkbox discussed the way the ‘Leave’ campaigners had started backtracking on their slogans about Britain taking back control of immigration within hours of winning the Brexit vote. All the rubbish they were promoting about a ‘Leave’ victory allowing Britain to cut back or end immigration has been gradually whittled down to nothing, or almost nothing, if we want to maintain trade links.

After Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday made a speech in the Commons stating that he would not make any false promises on immigration, the Times published a cartoon of the Labour leader at the helm of a ship with the name ‘Corbyn Cruises’, stuffed with generic foreign types. The cartoon has the caption ‘Migrant Ferry Across the Mersey’, a reference to the Labour party holding its conference in Liverpool.

The Skwawkbox rightly attacks this as racist and xenophobic, and notes that it shows the Establishment’s terror at Jeremy Corbyn’s authenticity. He refuses to treat the British public as fools, to be manipulated by mendacious sloganeering and lies, that are discarded as soon as they have served their purpose.

See Mike’s post at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/30/astonishingly-racist-times-cartoon-shows-terror-of-corbyns-authenticity-the-skwawkbox-blog/ and follow the link to the original piece.

The Skwawkbox makes the point that the Times is a Murdoch rag, but still purports to have the same gravitas as a serious broadsheet. Well, it lost some of that same gravitas about four decades or so ago when the Dirty Digger was allowed to buy it by Maggie Thatcher. When it was edited by Harold Evans, there was a serious attempt to make the paper impartial. It was sceptical of the unions, yes, but Evans also stated that he wanted to make the paper sceptical of the powerful in general, including in business and government. This policy was seriously harmed by Murdoch’s take-over, and it became as shrilly right-wing in its attacks on Michael Foot and the Labour party as the other right-wing rags.

And it continued to make stupid decisions that harmed the paper’s reputation. Remember the scandal about the ‘Hitler Diaries’. These were forgeries, written in modern ink in a modern exercise book. Nevertheless, they briefly took in Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre, a historian, who has written the introduction to the OUP edition of Hitler’s Table-Talk. After initially endorsing them, Trevor-Roper began having doubts about their authenticity. So the Times editor rang up Murdoch. Who then decided to maintain his reputation for high journalistic standards with the reply, ‘I don’t want to hear about that’, and commanded the Times editor to publish Trevor-Roper’s initial decision that the diaries were genuine. The result: Murdoch shifted more copies of the Times, at the expense of Trevor-Roper unfairly looking stupid.

Then in the 1990s the Times’ editor, David Leppard, decided to publish the allegations of the Soviet defector and notorious liar, Oleg Gordievsky, that Michael Foot was a KGB agent, codenamed ‘Boot’. This was all lies, but it followed the Tory line in the 1980s that Labour had been infiltrated by Communists, all set on taking over Britain. Foot was too left-wing to win an election, but he was certainly no traitor. Foot sued, and Murdoch had to pay damages for libel. And the Times was left looking untrustworthy yet again. In fact, according to the accounts of people who’ve worked in Murdoch’s libel department, the Disgrace to Australian Journalism has little qualms about libelling people. He’s not worried about losing so much as how much he has to pay out in damages afterwards. If the amount he stands to lose in a libel case is less than the profits he’ll make on a story, he decides it’s worth it and publishes. Even though he and his lawyers know the story’s a lie.

As for racism, the Murdoch press also has a very long, and ignominious tradition of this, though usually it’s confined to the Scum. I also remember reading a story in Private Eye in the 1990s or early part of this century that reported yet another case brought against the Scum for racism before the Press Complaints Commission. This stated that up to that time, the alleged ‘newspaper’ had had 19 judgements for racism against it by the Council. This followed a Scum cartoon showing a line of pigs demonstrating against racist slander, observed by two men, with the caption, ‘Now pigs complain about being compared to Arabs.’ This is the type of journalism, that provoked the journos on Murdoch’s papers in Oz and New York to go on strike in the 1970s and ’80s. They complained that, thanks to the Digger’s highly populist attitude to journalism, he’d turned them and their papers into a laughing stock. Most journalists, at least at that time, took their profession very seriously, and wanted to do the best job they could. And this was being frustrated by Murdoch and his very low sensibilities.

So now the Times, like the Scum, is playing up racism and xenophobia again to promote its Conservative stance against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn. And the Skwawkbox is entirely right: it does show the establishment’s fear of Corbyn’s authenticity. Mike has blogged time and again about the repeated failure of the Tories to carry out their promise to cut down on immigration. And he rightly reported that Brexit also wouldn’t cut down on immigration either, because of the economics involved, and the number of foreign workers and students required by industry and the university sector. Mike was proved right. The Tories and ‘Leave’ campaign were liars.

But Corbyn isn’t. He’s been honest and stated he is not going to make false promises. It’s a refreshing attitude from a politician, a profession that is generally distrusted and viewed with increasing contempt and derision by the British public, precisely because of all the lies and PR spin. The Tories are past masters of this. David Cameron was a former PR man, and the Tories arguably started the professionalization of political lying when Margaret Thatcher made Bernard Ingham her press secretary.

Corbyn told the truth, and in a political culture poisoned by mendacity, this makes him dangerous. Especially when it’s about immigration, which has always been used as a propaganda tool by the Tories and their lackeys in the press. And so the Times has once again lived down to Rupert Murdoch’s journalistic standards, and attacked Corbyn in a racist and xenophobic cartoon. Which itself shows how right Murdoch’s critics were when they opposed his acquisition of the paper. Maggie was told fairly and squarely that he was not a fit or proper person to own the newspaper. And as this cartoon shows, they were right.

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Murdoch’s Editorial Interference and Right-Wing Bias

June 7, 2016

The phone hacking scandal has been rumbling on for what seems like forever now. For a moment it looked like Murdoch himself was going to end up in court, because of allegations that he personally interferes in editing his newspapers. According to Private Eye, he almost appeared before the beak a few years ago on a libel charge, after Michael Foot sued the Times for claiming that he was a KGB agent, based on the unlikely word of Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a former KGB agent, and self-confessed liar. From what I recall, a number of the Times’ staff were highly sceptical of the allegations, with the exception of the editor, David Leppard. And so the paper printed the story that Foot, a principled democratic socialist, whose loyalty to his country should never have been in doubt, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

Murdoch’s managed to escape these scrapes with the law, and wriggle out of them when he has been forced to appear before public enquiries and parliamentary committees, by claiming that he doesn’t interfere with his papers’ editorial policies. Mark Hollingworth, in his book The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, points out that Murdoch largely doesn’t need to. He appoints editors he knows will follow his political line, like Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil, who before he became editor of the Sunset Times was one of the editors on the Economist. Neil told his staff at a meeting of the Gay Hussar pub in London that he fully supported Thatcher’s policies on monetarism and privatisation, although on macroeconomic policy he claimed he was further to the left, and more like David Owen. (p. 18).

The News of the World

But Hollingworth makes clear that the Dirty Digger does interfere with the editor’s running of his newspapers, and certainly did so when he took over the News of the World at the end of the 1960s. Hollingsworth writes

However, when Murdoch was faced with an editor who didn’t share his political views and wanted a semblance of independence, the situation changed dramatically. when he took of the News of the World in 1969, Murdoch told the incumbent editor, Stafford Somerfield: I didn’t come all this way not to interfere.’ According to Somerfield, the new proprietor ‘wanted to read proofs, write a leader if he felt like it, change the paper about and give instructions to the staff’. As the paper’s long-serving editor, Somerfield was used to a fair amount of independence and he tried to resist Murdoch’s interference. In 1970 Somerfield was dismissed by Murdoch.

A similar fate befell another News of the World editor a decade later. Barry Askew had been appointed by Murdoch in April 1981 after a successful career as the crusading editor of the Lancashire Evening Post during which he published a series of stories about corruption among local public officials and institutions. However, when Askew and the News of the World declined, like the Times under Harold Evans during the same period to give the Conservative government unequivocal support, Murdoch took action. ‘He [Murdoch] would come into the office,’ said Askew, ‘and literally rewrite leaders which were not supporting the hard Thatcher monetarist line. That were not, in fact, supporting – slavishly supporting – the Tory government.’

Askew believes the big clash came over an exclusive story about John DeLorean, the car tycoon. A freelance journalist, John Lisners, had persuaded DeLorean’s former secretary, Marian Gibson, to reveal details about her boss’ business practices and alleged irregularities. It was a superb story, backed up by other sources and also cleared by Gibson’s lawyer-Clarence Jones.

However, just after noon on Saturday 3 October 1981, Murdoch telephoned Askew, as he invariably did every week, to discuss the main stories. Askew told him about the DeLorean scoop and Murdoch appeared initially to be enthusiastic. Later that afternoon Murdoch arrived at the office in Bouverie Street and went straight to the ‘back-bench’ to read the DeLorean material. One of the key sources was William Haddad, who had worked for Murdoch on the New York Post. On learning of Haddad’s involvement, Murdoch said: ‘He’s a leftwing troublemaker’, although he later denied saying this. ‘I may have referred to Bill’s love of conspiracy theories.’

Murdoch then consulted his legal advisors and they decided the story was legally unsafe. The story was killed. The next day the Daily Mirror published the same story on its front page and the rest of the media followed it up. Interestingly, according to Ivan Fallon and James Srodes’ book DeLorean, it was Murdoch who arranged for Lord Goodman to act as DeLorean’s lawyer to discourage the rest of Fleet Street from pursuing the story. Within a year DeLorean’s car firm was bankrupt. Within two months, in December 1981, Askew was dismissed and he returned to Lancashire a bitter man. ‘I don’t think Fleet Street gives a damn about ethics, morality or anything else. It gives a damn about attracting a readership that will attract an advertising situation which will make a profit which will make the press barons powerful politically.
(pp.18-20).

The Times

This editorial interference did not stop with the News of the World. It also extended to the Times, when that august paper was under the editorship of the highly respected journalist, Harold Evans. Hollingworth continues

But by far the most revealing example of Murdoch’s desire to set the political line of his papers also came during 1981 when the Conservative government was very unpopular because of high unemployment. when Harold Evans was appointed editor of the Times in March 1981, he was given official guarantees by Murdoch about editorial freedom. On 23 January 1981, the new owner of Times Newspapers had given formal undertakings that ‘In accordance with the traditions of the papers, their editors will not be subject to instruction from either the proprietor of the management on the selection and balance of news and opinion.’

Within a year, however, Evans had been dismissed, claiming he had been forced to resign over constant pressure by Murdoch to move the paper to the Right. Evans’ added: ‘The Times was not notably hostile to the [Conservative] government but it wanted to be independent. But that was not good enough for Rupert Murdoch. He wanted it to be a cheerleader for monetarism and Mrs Thatcher.’ Murdoch denied the charge: ‘Rubbish! Harry used to come and see me and say, “Rupert, it’s wonderful to have you in town. What do you want me to say, what do you want me to do, just let me know.”‘ On this crucial point, Evans told me: ‘Lie plus macho sneer with a useful ambiguity. It is a lie that I ever asked him what to say… It is true that I asked his view from time to time on developments of the paper. The truth is that far from asking Murdoch “what to say”, I followed an editorial policy often in opinion at variance with his own Thatcher-right-or-wrong view.’

The evidence certainly gives credence to Evans’ interpretation of events, although he also fell out with some of the staff. According to leader writer Bernard Donoghue, features editor Anthony Holden and executive editor Brian Macarthur, there was political pressure on Evans because of what Mrs Thatcher called ‘the Times centrist drift’. When unemployment had reached three million in the summer of 1981 Murdoch and Gerald Long, Managing Director of Times Newspapers, wanted the Times to emphasize the number of people in work. Evans declined and Murdoch snapped at him: ‘You’re always getting at her [Mrs Thatcher].’ The Times editor and his proprietor continually argued over economic policy and on one occasion Evans received an extraordinary memorandum from Gerald Long: ‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer says the recession has ended. Why are you have the effrontery in the Times to say that it has not.’

Evans believes the Times was simply taking a more detached, independent editorial position. But by early 1982, Murdoch was clearly losing patience. According to Bernard (now Lord Donoghue, a leader writer and now a stockbroker at Grieveson & Grant, Murdoch had promised Mrs Thatcher that the Times would be back in the Conservative camp by the Easter of that year. But the editor refused to submit to what he later called ‘political intimidation and harassment’. On 12 March 1982, Evans wrote the following editorial: ‘ Unemployment is a social scandal… We favour a more competitive society as against one which is subject to the monopoly power of capital or the trade unions. Three days later Evans was dismissed.

Such lack of sovereignty and independence by the editor has been prevalent throughout the Murdoch empire. ‘I give instructions to me editors all round the world, why shouldn’t I in London,’ he told Fred Emery, home affairs editor of the Times, on 4 March 1982. However, since 1983 all four of Murdoch’s London papers have taken a consistently pro-Conservative government line and so there has been no need to interfere. According to a report on the Sunday Times’ ‘Insight’ team, this is how the system works: ‘Murdoch appoints people who are sympathetic to him. Thus most of the senior staff like Hugo Young have left or been completely emasculated or replaced… To survive you have to self-censor. You approach a story in a different way than if you’d run it in the way you wanted to.’ (pp. 20-1).

The Sun

Hollingsworth concludes that Murdoch actually rarely interfered with the Sun, as under its editor Larry Lamb, who was knighted by Thatcher in 1980, it had already moved to the Tory right, a policy that was continued by the succeeding editor, Kelvin MacKenzie. (p. 21).

So while Murdoch may not interfere in the day-to-day editorial matters of his newspapers any more, they do reflect his personal political opinions and his own personal style of journalism, as carried out by compliant, sympathetic editors.
There was an outcry when he tried to buy the News of the World in 1969. The paper’s then-management were worried about how he would change the paper. And the same fears were raised again when he went off and bought the Times in the late ’70s or first years of the ’80s. There were indeed plans to refer his proposed purchase to the monopolies and mergers commission, though that might have been when he bought the Daily Herald and turned it into the Scum.

And his critics were right. He is not a fit and proper person to own a paper, and he should never have been allowed to buy them. It says much about Thatcher’s grubby, domineering leadership that he was.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator, Part 3

May 28, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Last week, I posted the tune for the radical song, ‘The Agitator’, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. As with nearly all the other tunes from that book, I hadn’t noted down the words. Jess kindly supplied further information on them, pointing out that it was written in the 1870s to support the Agricultural Labourers’ Union. She also supplied further background information about the Union and the songs written by its members in their campaign for recognition and better wages and conditions. See the post ‘Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator, Part 2’. Now she’s kindly supplied the lyrics for the song itself.

The Union’s founder, Joseph Arch, said

Of course I was called an agitator; so I was, because everyone, who stirs people up to do things is an agitator, but those who so named me attached a bad meaning to the word. I was agitating for the right and not for the wrong; I was no ‘Arch Apostle of Arson’, as some one chose to call me. The Bishop of Gloucester (Dr Ellicott) was one of my worst enemies in the early days of the movement. He wanted me, and those, like me, ducked in the horse pond. As to the parsons generally, I never expected them to have much sympathy with us. Their stock argument against the Union was that it was ‘setting class against class’. This was their poll-parrot cry. ‘Oh yes, said they, ‘the men have a perfect right to try and improve themselves, and we will help them; but the Union is setting class against class’.

According to Palmer and Pamela Horn, who wrote a biography of Arch in 1977, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union was founded in 1872. He believes that ‘The Agitator’ was written the following year, 1873, by the Union’s secretary, Henry Taylor. Taylor was a carpenter, who was admitted to the Union because of his previous trade union experience. The farm labourers’ unions produced a great number of songs, which were collected into a pamphlet, Songs for Singing at Agricultural Labourers’ Meetings (London and Leamington). These proved to be popular. According to Harold Evans in his Radical Fights of Forty Years, the pamphlet sold 120,000 copies.

The lyrics go

The Agitator
Tune – The Nobby Head of Hair

A jolly, jolly ploughboy I am, as you may see,
But never mind, I always strive to live by honesty;
I’ve always done my very best, by hard work, fare, and sweat, –
To get about the winid, boys, but I’m never out of debt.

Chorus
So I’ll agitate, I’ll agitate, whatever folks may say,
Till all have joined the Union, and get a fair days’ pay.

We care not what the Parsons say, -though they’re the chaps to know,
They say that all who agitate, to their dark friend must go;
And if ’tis tru, ’tis very clear, themselves had best look out,
So milt their agitation is, they often get the gout.
We’ll agitate, etc.

The farmers say they can’t afford to pay us proper wage;
But still they keep their carriages, and follow fashion’s rage;
‘Tis true that some poor farmers have their necks beneath the heel
Of selfish Lords, and unjust laws, which soon we must repeal.
We’ll agitate, etc.

The ‘Lords’ complain their rent of land, per cent. enough don’t pay,
‘Political Economy’s’ a law we must obey,-
If so, they’ll very soon become defunct throughout the land,
For ‘mongst the People I’m quite sure, for Lords there’s no demand.
We’ll agitate, etc.

They say the Labourers are not Serfs, – that we have liberty;
With our wages and our perquisites, how happy we might be;
But if we join the ‘Union’ chaps, say nought of better wage,-
O what a flare-up all at once! don’t they go into a rage?
We’ll agitate, etc.

They turn us out of house and home, they sack us there and then,
But off we go to other jobs,- we’ll do it, boys, like men;
For if to be successful with our cause we are inclined,
Why, then, a little sacrifice, my boys, we must not mind.
We’ll agitate, etc.

Our cause will prosper in the end, for all th’oppressors might;
We’ll do our best to help ourselves – ‘God will defend the right’;
‘The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower’,
So let us all take heart again, and whilst we have the power,
We’ll agitate, etc.

Like very many of the other songs I’ve posted up here, it’s very much of its time. Nevertheless, also like the other songs, parts of it are still very relevant. People are being forced heavily into debt, and forced from their homes. And we are being led by an aristocratic government that keeps invoking economics to justify their attacks on the poor and working and lower middle classes. So let’s show them that, as the song says, there’s no demand for lords in 21st century Britain.