Categories: Media issues / Political spin

22 December 2010


Messrs Cable and Assange: The media’s holy fools

There are two media hullabaloos resonating right now: Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of some decision-making powers after telling undercover journalists he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch; WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange now claims The Guardian has betrayed his secrets. It makes me wanna chant “long live the media!”

The media are a jumpy herd. The Guardian newspaper profited from Julian Assange’s release of classified American documents that exposed military intelligence and diplomatic cables. It published them on WikiLeak’s selective, prejudiced and partisan terms. But now the same newspaper has published leaked details of the sexual assault charges that Assange faces in Sweden. I hope he’s innocent, of course. Then we can go back to disliking him for his intolerable smugness.

In the tradition of Xmas seasonal humbug Assange accuses the Swedish authorities of “deliberately and illegally, selectively taking bits of its material and giving them to newspapers”. He also told The Times newspaper that he has become critical of The Guardian’s reporters as journalists and as human beings. It seems that the hand that he fed has got up some nerve and swiped him, and it hurts. The rest of us have the small thrill of watching a leaker leaked-against, and his hating it more than those he leaked against did. “A gentleman” doesn’t tittle-tattle, Assange said, with a straight face. What a po-faced little git of a hero he is, to be sure.

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph has secretly recorded the views of the UK’s Business Secretary Vince Cable on Rupert Murdoch’s quest to acquire the majority equity in BSkyB. Scorning his ministerial obligation to remain neutral in the decision-making process, Mr Cable told undercover reporters that he was intent on blocking the deal on political grounds:

“You may wonder what is happening with the Murdoch press. I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we’re going to win.”

Someone at The Daily Telegraph seems to have been worried that because of his or her newspaper’s opposition to Murdoch’s ambitions it might not have shared this sting material with us and so leaked it to Robert Peston, of the BBC, which probably doesn’t like the deal either.

It may good or bad news that it is no longer Cable (at Industry) but Hunt (at Culture, Media and Sport) who’s going to take the decision on Murdoch’s empire-building. It depends which way the decision goes; which way you want it to go; and which way you think it might have gone. Good luck in unpicking that little lot.

Before we get lost in the Murdoch stuff, we should gawp at Vince Cable accusing the government of leading a “kind of Maoist revolution”. It won’t be long, I fear, before Mr Cable denounces the Tories as revisionists in need of re-education.

Mr Cable certainly showed signs of having read the “Little Red Book” when he acknowledged Chairman Mao’s insight that real power comes from the barrel of a gun:

“They know I have nuclear weapons, but I don’t have any conventional weapons. If they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the government down and they know that.”

They will also have spotted (and probably Mr Cable has as well) that the point about the nuclear option is that it can also be a form of martyrdom, which is all too fashionable these days, and not the least bit attractive.

Mr Cable has emerged as a man close to events as well as being flaky, vain, and changeable, as well as clever. George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his customary dry deftness, described his lefty Lib-Dem colleague as a “powerful ally”, which was deliciously ambiguous. Indeed, one might say the Tories have had a good week: Cable has been allowed to survive and – now being thought a twit by all sides – has been weakened as an enemy and defined as an unreliable collaborator. The left will go on thinking him noble, and a BBC journalist opined:

“…once the kafuffle has died down, he [Cable] may well conclude that the whole episode has played to his advantage.

For the talk of “fighting a war” within the Coalition surely shows the seriousness with which Mr Cable is prepared to go toe-to-toe to stand up for Lib Dem views.

“…All of which can only be music to the ears of apprehensive Lib Dem activists concerned they’ve been rolled over by David Cameron.”

But surely it is also likely that he has started to enfeeble the wider impact of his resignation or sacking, whichever comes first (assuming he doesn’t totter on until the Government falls or faces re-election)? After all, one wonders what odds a bookmaker would give any Lib Dem candidate’s chances of survival at the next general election.

The wider electorate will think Cameron-Osborne were wise to keep the old fellow more or less onboard and the Tories will have gained sympathy for having to deal with such wobbly allies.

What I’m enjoying most from these two parallel headline-making farces is that they show that the mainstream media – dead tree press or otherwise – are far from moribund. There’s still a fourth estate to be reckoned with. It is not easily governed or corrupted by either governments or pompous scandal-merchants such as Assange and there’s always a ready supply of puffed-up chatterers like Cable for it to expose. Sure, the media are not trustworthy or particularly consistent or predictable. They make reputations only to trash them.

The good news is that even the likes Assange and the once-thought-saintly Vince Cable get outed in the end, however much they delude themselves that they are kingmakers beyond public interrogation. So, yes, the media are conflicted. That’s what makes them invaluable and dangerous. But it is precisely because influencing the media over the long-haul is such a tough job that PRs are in such demand.

Talking of future demands, to all the readers of this online review of 21st-century PR issues, I offer my seasonal best wishes. I say farewell to 2010, and I hope that you will welcome 2011 with the same optimism and sense of fun that I hope to keep. Meanwhile, here’s three quotes from comrade Mao to chew on:

“The differences between friends cannot but reinforce their friendship.”

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery.”

“I voted for you during your last election.”

3 responses to “Messrs Cable and Assange: The media’s holy fools”

  1. Richard Bailey says:

    Best wishes for 2011 to you and your well-written and acerbic commentary (though even you can’t get away with opening a piece with ‘there’re’!)

  2. Paul Seaman says:

    Richard, thanks for the best wishes. And thanks to you “there’re” has been tweaked.

  3. Edward says:

    I am glad that Assange has got a bit of his own medicine. I support the principle of whistle blowing sites as a way of exposing the abuses of state and corporations, but he has been too selective in what he has leaked, leaking stuff quite often that is topical to that day’s news.

    It is crassly stupid to release data of critical defence infrastructure, as he has changed from a free speech annoyance to a legitimate target by the US security services, including dirty tricks which may be the case in the Swedish rape cases.

    The US is also quite right that lives may be put at risk, currently there is a publicly available encrypted file of all the data under Assange’s control. What would happen if the key to that data gets leaked? All the redacted data of agent’s names will appear in plain sight.

    Vince Cable got caught out, he said things that he should not have said as it plainly shows bias against Murdoch. However running a MP’s surgery should be done in confidence, just as with the priest, solicitor or doctor. By breaking this unwritten covenant, people will not be able to speak their mind and the mistrust of MPs will worsen.