Issue 252: 2020 10 22: Nothing About It!

American Bald Eagle in front of flag looking fierce
Eagle Eyed

22 October 2020

Read Nothing About It! 

The swing of the media.

By J R Thomas

In the Shaw Sheet we try to tell you a little more about what lies behind stories currently in the news.  In that we are, it seems, streets ahead of such digital “platforms” as Twitter and Facebook, in which, on some subjects, you will read nothing about it.  Or not much.  Non-mainstream views on Covid-19, for instance, or aspects of the US Presidential election.

Many years ago your correspondent reported to a man who really was not up to his job, though he had a considerable achievement in rising considerably above his natural level of competency.  To those he worked for he was fairly harmless, but he was a bit of a nuisance, took credit from others and placed blame below him.  His team in the pub in the evenings would sigh and moan, but end up saying “but he’s a nice chap”.  One night, one of those assembled lost it, shouting “But he’s NOT a nice chap, he’s incompetent and stupid and using us to hang on to a job he’s not fit to be in!”.  And so, to be honest, he was and he wasn’t.

Recently your correspondent has been somewhat guilty of “nice chappism”, applying this label to dear old Joe Biden.  Because, really, although he’s old (nothing wrong with that) he actually is not so terribly nice.  Joe is an old fashioned Democrat machine politician who has risen and risen, for no terribly convincing reason, via the vice-Presidency to finally being the nominated candidate for the Presidency.  He does not terribly believe in anything much, though he certainly has a commitment to equal opportunities and helping the poor.  He has nice manners, a moderate approach to most matters, and he has the Democratic party sewn up.  There have been some terrible tragedies in his family life and he has shown an impressive ability to bounce back and keep going.  Which does suggest that there is a much more ambitious edge to Joe than all that grey haired folksiness would suggest; especially given the way he frequently references those tragedies.  Mr Biden is in truth an ambitious politician and the fire of ambition has not gone out yet.

He has a dangerous weakness though; maybe two.  He adores his family and he likes financial security.  You may protest that those are not weaknesses, more strengths.  So they are, but when you are a Senator, or vice-President for eight years, temptation will be put in your path, as is the American way.  A strong politician will resist – Harry H Truman left office effectively broke; so badly off that it was for him that a Presidential pension was first formulated.  But some politicians do not turn their faces against temptations.  This danger has become a source of gossip in current political circles, a wisp of smoke over Joe Biden’s head.  It’s not new, the tale has been in the media for some time, and Mr Trump stirs it up whenever he can.  Mr Biden, it is said, had a close relationship with certain Ukrainian politicians, and that led to his son, Hunter, getting a very lucrative job as advisor to an Ukrainian oil company.  Hunter’s qualifications for such a role are not obvious.  That, simply, is the tale, and although parts of it may be true, Joe denies impropriety at any point.

The US media have tiptoed over these eggshells with great care, not saying nothing exactly, but always bearing in mind that the American public seem to expect a bit of sleaze, or alleged sleaze, as part of the game.  US politics is less pure in heart than politics in the UK, and Americans are used to their politicians having odd friends or being rather richer than might be expected.  The political writers have run a few stories and their outlets have printed them.  But what the whole matter throws strange light on is those new town criers, social media.  The great new social media sites have become in a very short time immensely powerful and it is those sites that are the principle battleground of this election, especially at the presidential level.  Now, if a newspaper or TV channel should publish some allegation or run some story, they are very careful that the subject of their tale will not be able to get them into court.  Not as careful in the UK, but even in the United States with a long tradition of muck raking journalism (this is a compliment rather than an insult) they do tread thoughtfully, nervous lawyers by their sides.

But social media sites are not, they repeatedly say of themselves, publishers. They are platforms.  Thus, legally, they are not responsible for what appears on their sites.  Which is why Facebook and Twitter and Reddit are great reading, if you are in the mood for outrage, bile, vulgarity, and downright fibs masquerading as facts.  All those amateur and some professional commentators, some well informed, some wild guessers, some mischievous, some Russian no doubt, some just mad, are very entertaining.  Or perhaps we should say, “were” great reading.  In recent months the owners and controllers of these platforms have started to sweep certain types of stories from their decks, whilst promoting others.  Out with nasty insinuations about the Biden family and Democrat aspirants generally; but bring on more allegations about the GOP side of the room, and in particular that ever popular favourite of the coconut shy, D. Trump.

Of course, the press and the media and the social media are all owned and run by somebody, and those somebodys mostly have a political orientation.  Readers know what to expect if they turn to the New York Times or The Guardian, and equally from the Telegraph, USA Today, or indeed Breitbart News.  Each has its sympathies and its leanings.  And now the readers of Californian owned social media should start to expect a perhaps, Californian, edge to their feeds.  Democrat supporting, leftish, young, informal.  We can’t argue against that; if you own the printing press, even a virtual one, you can publish what you like, within the law.  But can you still argue that you are just a platform and not responsible for what appears on it if you block some subjects, some items, and promote others?  If Mr Trump gets back to Pennsylvania Avenue, then expect some legal fun on how responsible those young Californian multi-billionaires are for what they allow to slip out into the ether.  Even with a Democrat presidency the owners of conventional media may before long wish to press the point.

Which brings us to what will happen in a fortnight.  Who knows, but Mr Biden’s lead is slightly falling, the polls seem to indicate.  What puzzles a lot of Americans though, a lot of other folks come to that, is how on earth could the most powerful nation on earth be facing a choice between two old men (yes, you are, Donald)?  One is rude, lacking it seems in human empathy or any sense of modesty or kindness (even if he has achieved what any centrist president would be pleased about: a strong (pre-Covid) economy, American troops ceasing to police the world, improvements in many social systems, real improvements for most Americans in their standard of living).  The other is forgetful, confused, visibly tired, no visions of shining cities on hills or anything else, just a man whose motive seems to be that he thinks he is entitled to the job.  And there is no box for “Neither of the above”…




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