The liberal elite is aghast at American’s Boor-in-Chief. But the President is on the money in criticising a hopelessly biased media establishment.
I was trying to think of new phrases to convey what a risible lout Donald Trump really is when up popped Tony Blair.
“The people,” Blair told some class of “think-tank” on February 16th, must “rise up” against Brexit. He didn’t specify what form the rising should take. I assume we can rule out the armed occupation of a city centre post office.
He can hardly have meant angry citizens marching in millions either. Been there, done that, Blair told me to fuck off.
On the same day, Trump’s performance at a press conference in Washington was described by CNN as “quite extraordinary.” Commentators wondered aloud whether the new POTUS might be “demented” or “unhinged.”
Peter Oborne took a different view. Oborne writes for the High Tory and sometimes very interesting magazine The Spectator. Ideologically, he’d be some distance to my Right. Three and a half light-years last time I looked. On the other hand, he’s a good guy. And what’s more, he loves cricket. It’s hard to be wholly bad and love cricket.
Peter’s Basil D’Oliveira: Cricket and Controversy is one of the essential texts for any understanding of the interface between politics and sport. D’Oliveira, a black South African, came to England in 1960, signed for Worcestershire, qualified for England through residency in 1964, won his first cap in 1966 - opening up the scary-for-some possibility that he might force his way into the scheduled 1968/’69 tour of apartheid South Africa.
English cricket at the time was run by the blazered brigade-guards of racist tradition. They fought until long after stumps to hold history back. But a brilliant knock of 158 against Australia at the Oval left them no option. “Dolly” was in. Or was, until apartheid Prime Minister John Voster made it plain the tour would be banned if England insisted on including a player who wasn’t white. Not just non-white but a South African non-white presuming with brazen effrontery to come back and be pictured playing games and hanging out around hotel lounges and swimming pools with white celebrity pals. Couldn’t have that. The tour was off.
This was the key moment in the sporting boycott which helped pull down the pillars of apartheid. And Cricket and Controversy is by far the best evocation of the moment.
Thus it was that I wasn’t particularly surprised when I turned on BBC Radio 4 a couple of weeks back to hear Peter speaking unspeakable truths about Trump’s press conference the previous day. The Beeb’s North America correspondent Jon Sopel had just reported on Trump’s “most extraordinary” performance. What did Peter think of that, then, Justin Webb asked, in tones seeming to anticipate Peter joining Beeb-folk everywhere in chortling with horror at another dismaying Trump debacle. Wrong call.
“I have to say that I was listening to Mr Sopel there who reported the Blair years very enthusiastically, and he was accusing Donald Trump of all sorts of things which he never accused Blair of, and [Alistair] Campbell, (that) he only took one line of argument, he excluded the hostile press, he was obsessed by the media. This just as much applied to the man that Mr Sopel admired so much when he reported it for the BBC... Welcome to what’s been going on for the last 20 years. Nothing new.”
Webb laughed aloud, gasping incredulously, “Are you seriously arguing that Donald Trump is a kind of extension of Tony Blair?” (Laughing aloud on live radio at a guest’s answer is commonly considered improper, even uncool. But when it comes to pursuing the Beeb’s political agenda, anything goes.)
Oborne: “The mendacity, the lying, the cheating, the obsession with the press…the complete contempt for the truth. There’s nothing new here. It happened with the Clinton years…Actually it was worse during the Blair years because the press was so reverential and they sold us the lie about weapons of mass destruction and the Iraq war…. And the press and the BBC cheered him along… Now that they have got somebody they don’t like, they are going after him.”
Webb could again clearly be heard in the background, sniggering.
Three days later, after Blair’s advocacy of an uprising against the Brexiteers, his slithery spin-doctor Peter Mandleson appeared on Andrew Marr to defend his master’s call to action. Some might recall Marr putting his best face forward live on the news from outside Downing Street as Baghdad was illuminated by the US/UK “shock and awe” assault back in 2003. “He said that he would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. On both these points he has been proved conclusively right. It would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.”
Did this spectacularly inaccurate piece of propaganda masquerading as news damage Marr in his BBC career? Au contraire. It’s been the making of him. He’s now the corporation’s go-to journalist for high-value interviews with top Blairites.
To describe the BBC in this instance as “dishonest” and its coverage as “fake news” seems to me, as to Peter Oborne, no more than an observation of fact.
Donald Trump is, truly, a boor and a bigot. But that doesn’t mean that everything he says is wrong.
He’s right about the liberal media.
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