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Distortions from the Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph is the main conservative newspaper in Britain – at least that is how it presents itself and some of its content really is conservative, but often it follows the line of the left (the doctrines that Telegraph journalists will have been taught in school, including most private schools, and at university).

Yesterday’s print edition (which I read on a long journey from Northern Ireland) gives an interesting example (the online edition is arranged differently). Most people will see the assumptions in the article by Telegraph employee Mary Riddell – “Osbourn’s brutal cuts play right into the hands of the unions” (actually the British government spending review is not even published to October 20th – and I would not be astonished if, behind all the smoke and mirrors, government spending next year was even higher than it is this year) with language such as “slash and burn” and “destroys the very charities and community groups” (in Mary’s world, which is sadly very close to the state of modern Britain, a charity or community group is part of the government to be funded by the taxpayers) inflicting “maximum pain” and threatening a “concordant with the unions” … etc, etc. Propaganda of this sort is not really dangerous – everyone can see it for what it is and make their own judgements. However, it is not what interests me – I am interested in what people will not tend to spot, what flows into their minds without their even knowing it.

On the obituary page people will notice the obituary for John Gouriet (one of the founders of what became the Freedom Association in Britain), and some people will get angry at the scare quote marks around the word “oppression” in relation to the Soviet Union (as if Mr Gouriet was silly to think that the totalitarian Soviet Union actually was oppressive), but most people will just read without really thinking the little extract from “Great Obituaries From This Week In The Past” next to it – an extract from the obituary of the famous supporter of racial segregation Governor George Wallace (who died in 1998). First of all the placement of the “extract” associates Mr Gouriet with racial segregation (“paranoid Paul – they just happened to die in the same week, twelve years apart, so we have put them next to each other”) as does the stress on South Africa in the obituary of Mr Gouriet – it implies (but never actually states – “no Paul – we are just reporting that he opposed the postal boycott of South Africa”) that John Gouriet supported the laws on racial segregation in South Africa. But also the extract itself is a wonderful (“nice” in the old Anglo Saxon sense) distortion of George Wallace himself.

George Wallace is made out to be a man of the right (in the small government Ronald Reagan or Mrs Thatcher or John Gouriet sense) – he “detached a substantial portion of the blue collar vote from the Democratic party for a generation” with his “anti Washington” themes. In reality George Wallace was a Democrat – and a big government Democrat at that, he stood for vastly increased government spending (on education, health and old age) his whole political life, not just at the State level in Alabama, but also at the Federal level (so much for being “anti Washington” in the sense of being anti big government).

Now the full obituary back in 1998 may have told the truth about what George Wallace actually was – but the extract certainly does not. And it is little things like this extract (the “drip, drip, drip” effect) that form the background knowledge of people on subjects that people do not really know anything about. “Oh George Wallace – that racist anti big government conservative, a bit like Reagan or Sarah Palin or…”

People wonder how the left can redefine such things as the big government “Slave Holding States of America”, the Confederacy, as anti big government (and since the time of Woodrow Wilson’s history of the United States they have done such a good job of this, that some libertarians even go about showing their support for the Confederacy without having a clue about the big government polices, far worse than those of Lincoln and the Union, that Jefferson Davis and co actually followed), or how they managed to redefine the life long socialist Mussolini and his “totalitarian” Fascists as somehow pro business conservatives (and associate being pro free enterprise with being a Fascist), but here we see the process in action. George Wallace, life long big government man, is transformed into an anti big government activist before our eyes – and racism is thereby connected with being anti big government.

Is this a deep, dark plot by leftist infiltrators at the Daily Telegraph? Almost certainly not – it is “just” people following what they were taught at school and university, at that is about the most harmful thing a journalist (or non journalist) can do when writing about history, politics, economics…

If “those who control the education of the young control the future” is correct then civilization is already doomed – but I believe that people can break free of what they were taught, if we make the effort.

36 comments to Distortions from the Daily Telegraph

  • The Pedant-General

    I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what Mary Riddell is doing on the staff of the DT. It makes no sense at all – she’s a boring, not particularly lucid boiler-plate Grauniad lefty.

    But then the DT does have its brainfart moments – it’s still giving airtime to Geoffrey Lean and Louise Gray – both unquestioning and uncritical parrots of the warmist consensus line.

  • Verity

    I’ve never understood the point of Mary Riddell who is a plodding, preditable, leftist thinker and a dire writer. I cannot imagine anyone hacking through any of her pieces all the way to the end. Actually, I can’t imagine anyone getting beyond the first sentence. Actually, having sampled her drab thinking a couple of times, I can’t imagine anyone not saving themselves the trouble, and quitting before the first sentence.

    The most engaging part of any of her work is the sub’s headline.

  • I think the title of this post should be “How Conscienceless is Changed”.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Like the Pedant-General, I don’t see why the DT provides a berth to Riddell. She is an imbecile; her efforts in the last few years to cheerlead for Gordon Brown were profoundly embarrassing. There are plenty of other, sharper, more intelligent voices on the liberal left who could be used to provide an alternative POV if the DT really feels it must do so.

    It would be nice to have more voices of genuine classical liberalism in that paper, of course.

  • Obviously, I meant ‘Consciousness’…

  • Kevin B

    When Yeltsin was trying to convert the Soviet command economy into a more free market affair, the Beeb continually called his oppponents – those who sort to restore communism – ‘conservatives’ and ‘right-wingers’.

    Nowadays, it is best to treat any mention of ‘right-wingers’ by the media as meaning ‘people we don’t like’. Now that Fidel has started laying off public sector workers perhaps we should welcome him to the dark side.

  • Kevin B

    Hmmm. When one screws up the spelling of a homonym – sort for sought – is it best to forget it and move on, thus not wasting everone’s time, or should one post a correction, thus showing that one is not really pig ignorant and the brain-fart was caused by lack of caffeine?

  • lucklucky

    I don’t think Telegraph at least from the web can be called a “conservative” newspaper. It is more of a centrist one.

  • Tom

    “Now that Fidel has started laying off public sector workers perhaps we should welcome him to the dark side.” – Kevin B @ 9:49

    Does anyone want to start a pool on how long it will be before the Grauniad or another lefty media organization calls dear old Fidel a right-winger, wingnut, or fascist?

  • harry

    The DT retains Riddell on the basis that it needs at least one sandalista opinion piece writer in order to maintain a ‘balanced’ perspective. It also gives the readers something to ‘foam at the mouth’ at.

    It’s not a bad ploy. And better her than someone who could actually form a decent argument.

    The most worrying part of this article though is the bit about the long-term effects of leftist education and propaganda on the populace. Unless we get rid of the BBC licence fee soon it will be too late.

  • When one screws up the spelling of a homonym – sort for sought

    Sort and sought are homonyms? :-p

    I’m reminded of the time I heard some BBC World Service newsreader talk about “the two careers”, having no idea what she meant. Eventually modifiers were added to make it clearer: “North Career” and “South Career”. 🙂

  • Phil Mill

    I share Paul Marks’ optimism that people can break free of what they were taught at school and university. Recent research into the plasticity of the adult brain seems to corroborate Karl Popper’s insistence that people can change, and that therefore with an effort we can indeed transcend our inborn and cultural frameworks.

    When Richard Dawkins was launching his new website a few years in support of the The God Delusion, he spoke about raising consciousness. What we need to do is similar — and Samizdata does a valuable job in this respect — we need to be confident and persistent in encouraging people to see the assumptions throughout the media and the education system for what they are.

  • Dom

    Depending on your accent, “sort” and “sought” may by homophones, but they are not homonyms. “Stalk” (part of a plant) and “Stalk” (to tail someone) are homonyms. So are “Left” (the opposite or right) and “Left” (the past tense of Leave) and “Left” (what remains).

    Examples of homophones are “They’re / Their / There” or “Two / Too /To”.

  • John B

    John Gouriet:
    Goodbye to a hero and a gentleman, who put his actions in line with his principles.
    He did more for Britain than we know and such freedoms as were won in the 70s, 80s and 90s were significantly due to his efforts.

  • Kevin B

    Look! I said I hadn’t had any caffeine!

    And I do know the difference between words that sound the same and mean different things and words that sound the same and mean different things but are spelt the same!

    It’s called Muphry’s Law, but the question was, should one correct, or ignore?

  • Snag

    Who is/was Muphry?

  • Richard Thomas

    Homonyms come in two forms, homographs which are words that are written the same and homophones which are words that are pronounced the same. Sort/sought falls into the latter category.

    At least, this is what the conclusion I came to when I looked into it a while back. There appear to be several different understandings out there if you google around so YMMV.


  • Richard Thomas

    Hmm. The whole homonym/homophone/homograph thing really is a mess. Wikipedia and this link make interesting reading (and only serve to muddy things further)


  • Dom

    “Who is/was Muphry?”

    “Muphry” is a deliberate misspelling of “Murphey”. Murphey’s Law states that if something can go wrong, it will. “Muphrey’s Law” is a variant. It states that if you correct someone’s misspelling, you will misspell a word.

  • Kevin B

    Muphry’s Law states that when correct someone else’s spelling, grammar or comprehension mistake, one invariably makes a similar mistake.

  • “it is “just” people following what they were taught at school and university,”

    When you are taught to fit the blocks into a grid of holes for years, when you see things, you arrange them and fit them, anything outside of that is wrong and the shape pared down until it fits.

  • “… and racism is thereby connected with being anti big government.”

    I seem to have been getting that very tactic used against my good self recently.

  • You do, of course, realise that just as Muphrys Law is a specific example of Murphys Law, Murphy himself is just a narrow restatement of the more mathmatically precise Finangles Law.

    Finangle states “The peversity of the universe tends to a maximum”.

    That just abouts covers the lot I guess.

  • I stopped taking the Telegraph altogether seriously in 2003-2004, for their print-every-wild-rumor approach to the Iraq war. Like that one report they ran saying that the Iraqi scientists would tell us where are the WMD were hidden, once Saddam was safely capture.

  • Paul Marks

    Actually I do not think that Mary Riddell is a problem. Her political opinions are openly argued – where “she is comming from” is obvious.

    I would rather have ten Mary Riddells than all the subtle cultural stuff (such as the obituary example).

    Look at the work of Sukhdev Sandhu (one of the reasons I stopped subscribing to the D.T. years ago) – he and the other film critics do not ARGUE against conservative and libertarian ideas, they just assme we are shit and treat us with endless contempt filled sneering.

    What do you think does more damage – Mary Riddell openly comming out with leftist ARGUMENT, or the culture people (such as Sandhu – but he just a typical example) poisoning the wells of the culture (or of the perception of culture) against us?

    I hold that it is the cultural work that does the real damage – especially over the long term.

  • Paul Marks

    If you want a blatent example of leftist cultural work (although they are actually more damaging when less blatent) look at the talking up (and offers of free tickets and so on) of “Made in Dagenham” (the propaganda film supporting GOVERNMENT ENFORCED “equal pay”) in virtually all of the media.

    From Classic F.M. to the Daily Telegraph (and, no, Sandhu did NOT write the review).

    The H.Q. of the media left may be the BBC (hardly a book exists in a British bookshop unless a BBC leftist praises it – or writes it), but the cultural control of the left goes all over most of the media (including the entertainment media).

    But then, after all, the left control the schools and the universities – indeed teaching in a broader sense.

    In the present issue of BBC History Today the young (and not so young) readers are informed that wicked Roman Christians brought Pagan Britons and Saxons together, and that a “social revolution” of “egalitarianism” was forged, led by such “Red Monks” as Gildas.

    Do not laugh – I laughed, till I remembered that children at schools all over the country (including many private schools).

    Remember the point that Ludwig Von Mises made so often – it is the “good student” who becomes the Marxist, for he or she is the student who listens to what the teacher is saying (rather than looking out the window or whatever) and read the textbooks – and takes the ideas to their logical conclusions.

    It really is true – it is often the hardest working and most intelligent (in the sense of intelligence as problem solving and information absorbing) who become the radical leftists.

    “But Paul they should question the fundemental facts and assumptions they are taught”.

    As young children?

    I did, but that is freakish thing to do.

    People who make a success in life are not “paranoid” types who think to themselves (as children) “I suspect that this stuff just is not true” It is NOT intelligence – it is something else, “paranoia” is not the right word for it, but I am not sure what is the correct word.

  • It’s a Jewish thing, Paul – its name is ‘doubt’.

  • Paul Marks

    I will take that as complement Alisa.

    However, sadly many people of Jewish or part Jewish origins have no doubts about leftist doctrine – they take what they are taught to its “logical” conclusion without any doubts concerning the basic “facts” and assumptions they have been taught.

    The old American joke (and it is a joke – it is not meant as a serious piece of political sociology) that “of every 100 Jews only 5 are Communists – but of every 10 Communists 5 are Jews” has a grain of truth in it.

    And, of course, for every Bill Ayers (not an out of the mainstream figure – after all he wrote one of the standard teacher training works used in many American teacher training establishments) who take leftist doctrine to its extreme (Communist) conculusions, there are many people who just accept the Progressive interventionist doctrines, absorb them via hard intellectual work (for which Jews are known) and then present them in their own work – in examinations and other such.

    Then off to get the good job and be a “success”.

    Of course from Ludwig Von Mises onwards (right to David Friedman and others) there is a minority tradition in Jewish intellectual life, that does indeed question the basic assumptions that support the ever growing level of statism.

  • A few points, Paul. First, it was a sincere complement, one you would have gotten even if you last name was different. It is not a genetic thing, it is cultural and philosophic.

    Second, doubt everting, not just statism – everything, including liberty. In fact, doubt is the key to liberty.

    of every 10 Communists 5 are Jews

    How many are there out of 10 libertarians (if you can even find that many)?:-)

  • Snag

    “People who make a success in life are not “paranoid” types who think to themselves (as children) “I suspect that this stuff just is not true” It is NOT intelligence – it is something else, “paranoia” is not the right word for it, but I am not sure what is the correct word.”

    They are sceptics.

  • Thanks Snag – that’s the word I was looking for too:-)

  • Paul Marks

    I did take it as a sincere complement Alisa.

    “If you could find that many libertarians” – OUCH, more than a grain of truth there.

    Actually I think there is a serious point hiding in the joke. Jews (or people of part Jewish background) have a sort of “perpetual outsideness” to the society around us (unless the Jew was born and lives in Israel) so the “distance” between the Jew and the society gives rise to attraction to intellectual ways of explaining the society (people who are totally comfortable with their society tend to feel no great desire to explain it – but no Jew, or part Jew, can be TOTALLY confortable, can feel no sense of “apartness” at all).

    So Jews are likely to be found in disproportionate numbers in radical movements – not just Communism but libertarianism also (libertarianism is radical if you compare what libertarians want to what presently exists).

    After all my father is a good example of this – once a Maxist, he did not just become “mainstream”, he became a radical free market person (in this I am just a slightly more “extreme” version of him – accept I did not have the Marxist stage).

    As for doubt – yes I doubt everything apart from what I hold would be a logical contradiction to doubt (such as my own existance – for their to be a doubt there must be a doubter, no I do not believe the Hume inspired “refutations” of Descartes work at all on this point – with there nonsense talk about how a thought does not mean a thinker, yes it does).

    “But do you doubt one the very existance of God” – yes I do (faith and certainty are not the same thing).

    And before anyone says “I bet that gets you into trouble with Tea Party people” “question everything – even the very existance of God” is one of Glenn Beck’s favourate quotations.

    “But what about athiests”.

    Randian objectivists (open and strong athiests) have been welcome from the start.

    As usual what the left thinks it knows about conservatives is very far from the truth.

  • libertarianism is radical

    No kidding…

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Alisa – I have a habit of saying the obvious.

    True I can dress it up by saying “I am reasoning from logical axioms” (or some such fancy langauge), but really I am often just stating the obvious – stuff that everyone could work out (stuff that one has to contradict one’s self in order to try and deny).

    It is less difficult that (for example) going out and discovering new things about the universe.