In the 1930s, Theodor Adorno offered cogent criticism of the mass media, stating that it gave rise to ideology by standardising and stereotyping cultural “goods”, and it weakened people’s capacity to think in an autonomous and critical manner. Everyday life becomes the ideology of “its own [notable] absence”. Put another way, the “news” constitutes a reification of an extremely narrow range of our human experience.
Adorno and the Frankfurt Institute of [Critical] Social Studies generally proposed that this had rendered the public more susceptible to the ideology of Nazism and fascism. The media is simply a way of transmitting ideology, and is a mechanism by which dominant and powerful social groups are able to diffuse ideas which promote their own interests. Louis Althusser regarded the media as an integral part of the ideological state apparatus.
So I had wondered when the right-wing media bullying, character assassinations and lie campaigns against Ed Miliband would begin. Miliband has previously boldly demanded the breakup of Rupert Murdoch‘s media empire over the phone-hacking scandal. Today Ed Miliband has stood up to Paul Dacre, the most corrosive Fleet Street editor. This is a bold and direct challenge from Miliband to the propaganda of an established status quo, of course.
After the Mail attempted to claim that Miliband’s late father “loathed Britain” on the basis of one adolescent diary entry, Miliband points to his immaculate record of service in the Royal Navy, mentioned only in passing by the paper:
“He arrived, separated from his mother and sister, knowing no English but found a single room to share with my grandfather. He was determined to better himself and survive. He worked as a removal man, passed exams at Acton Technical College and was accepted to University. Then he joined the Royal Navy”.
In a thoroughly decent, balanced response in the Daily Mail, Miliband takes a steady aim at the paper for running a loathsome virulent gutter attack on his father, Ralph, under the despicable headline “The man who hated Britain”. Miliband writes:
“It’s part of our job description as politicians to be criticised and attacked by newspapers, including the Daily Mail. It comes with the territory. The British people have great wisdom to sort the fair from the unfair. And I have other ways of answering back.
But my Dad is a different matter. He died in 1994. I loved him and he loved Britain. And there is no credible argument in the article or evidence from his life which can remotely justify the lurid headline and its accompanying claim that it would “disturb everyone who loves this country”.
Many politicians have seen members of their families traduced by the Mail but few, if any, have responded as Miliband has. He has taken a decisive and brave path; yet another defining moment of his leadership, and a verification of his integrity and skill in handling malicious right -wing media rhetoric. He says:
“When I was growing up, he didn’t talk much about the Holocaust years because it was a deep trauma for both sides of my family. But he did talk about his naval service. The Daily Mail’s article on Saturday used just a few words to brush over the years my father spent fighting for his adopted country in the Second World War. But it played a bigger part in his life than that”.
But whilst defending his father against the Mail’s alleged charges, he also uses his article to open a wider debate about much needed press standards and ethics. Here are the important closing paragraphs:
“Britain has always benefited from a free press. Those freedoms should be treasured. They are vital for our democracy. Journalists need to hold politicians like me to account – none of us should be given an easy ride – and I look forward to a robust 19 months between now and the General Election.
But what appeared in the Daily Mail on Saturday was of a different order all together. I know they say ‘you can’t libel the dead’ but you can smear them.
Fierce debate about politics does not justify character assassination of my father, questioning the patriotism of a man who risked his life for our country in the Second World War, or publishing a picture of his gravestone with a tasteless pun about him being a ‘grave socialist’.
The Daily Mail sometimes claims it stands for the best of British values of decency. But something has really gone wrong when it attacks the family of a politician – any politician – in this way. It would be true of an attack on the father of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or mine.
There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened, in the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. And fear that if they spoke out, it would make things worse. I will not do that. The stakes are too high for our country for politics to be conducted in this way. We owe it to Britain to have a debate which reflects the values of how we want the country run.
With this clear and well-measured response, Miliband has set a standard, drawn a line in the sand, signalling that unlike previous leaders, he will not tolerate press abuses for fear of political retribution. I say bravo.
In the particularly notable section on “leadership and character” in his conference speech last week, Miliband declared:
“The real test of leadership is not whether you stand up to the weak, that’s easy; it’s whether you stand up to the strong and know who to fight for”.
Today, Miliband has certainly demonstrated that he is prepared practice what he preaches. It’s remarkable that a newspaper which has previously condemned commentators for “speaking ill of the dead” when Baroness Thatcher died suddenly sees fit to put aside it’s faux scruples for this all out attack on the deceased Ralph Miliband, with the sole intention to discredit his articulate, decent and honest son, who has truly become a big thorn in the side of all things conservative.
And regardless of whether readers share his politics (and the comments section of the Mail’s website suggests many readers take a more favourable view of Miliband’s proposed energy price freeze than their paper), Mail readers will respect the decency of a son defending his father. Milband’s article is yet another plain indication of what a powerful and open kind of leader he is. That’s a shot in the foot to you, there, Dacre.
A Labour spokesman said: “Ed Miliband wrote his right to reply article because he wanted to state clearly that his father loved Britain. He wanted the Daily Mail to treat his late father’s reputation fairly. Rather than acknowledge it has smeared his father, tonight the newspaper has repeated its original claim. This simply diminishes and exposes the Daily Mail further”.
“It will be for people to judge whether this newspaper’s treatment of a World War Two veteran, Jewish refugee from the Nazis and distinguished academic reflects the values and decency we should all expect in our political debate”.
This comes at a sensitive time as the privy council decides this month whether to accept a royal charter proposed by leading newspaper groups or by the three main political parties.
So the Daily Mail is opening up opportunity to discuss, not to mention, re-write history. Let’s explore this further. I seem to recall that the Mail has notably disseminated fascist ideology on many previous occasions.
On 6th February, during his first cross-examination in the Leveson Enquiry, Dacre openly admitted that the Mail had used the private detective Steve Whittamore, who was jailed in 2005 for illegally accessing information, but Dacre claimed that the rest of the British press had done so too. Oh, right, let you off then.
Peter Wright, now a former editor of the Mail on Sunday, had said in his Leveson examination that the paper continued using Whittamore for 18 months after his conviction, which Dacre effectively confirmed.
Dacre’s many hate-filled and nationally divisive headlines following the imposition of the Tory-led barbaric benefit cuts that promote an ideological pre-Victorian regressive separation of our fellow citizens into the categories of deserving and undeserving poor, demonstrates plainly that this is a person without morals, compassion or the capacity for critical evaluation and telling the truth.
Here are some critically evaluative, truthful citations from the Mail during the 1930s, and they may explain why the Mail has been so strangely and uncharacteristically silent when it comes to championing its own “glorious” past. Never mind, I shall speak to fill the notable absence of comment on the matter.
Some history: Viscount Rothermere, of Hemsted in Kent, is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1919 for the press Lord Harold Harmsworth, 1st Baron Harmsworth. He had already been created a baronet, of Horsey in the County of Norfolk, on 14 July 1910, and Baron Rothermere, of Hemsted in the County of Kent, in 1914. Every holder of the titles has served as Chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust plc. As of 2009, the titles are held by the first Viscount’s great-grandson, the fourth Viscount, Jonathon Harmsworth, who succeeded his father in 1998 (see above.)
Current Mail Corporate directors are:
- Lord Rothermere
- Peter Williams
- Paul Dacre
- Padraic Fallon
- Charles Dunstone
- Nicholas Berry
Lord Rothermere and the Mail were editorially sympathetic to the [then] Tory Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Rothermere wrote an article entitled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in January 1934, praising Mosley for his “sound, common sense, Conservative doctrine”. This support ended only after violence at a BUF rally in Kensington Olympia, which rather forced the issue later that year.
This headline appeared on the front page of the 8th July 1934 edition, and accompanied a piece on Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists that read, in part:
“If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley’s huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it”.
Subsequent articles emphasised the paper’s unwavering support, and on 15th January 1934, the BUF was described as: “a well-organised party of the right ready to take over responsibility for national affairs with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Hitler and Mussolini have displayed”.
This parallels the Mail’s similar enthusiasm for Fascist parties elsewhere in Europe, especially Adolf Hitler’s burgeoning Nazi movement: “The sturdy young Nazis are Europe’s guardians against the Communist danger”.
On 24th September, 1930 Lord Rothermere, wrote:
“These young Germans have discovered, as I am glad to note the young men and women of England are discovering, that it is no good trusting to the old politicians. Accordingly they have formed, as I would like to see our British youth form, a Parliamentary party of their own. […] The older generation of Germans were our enemies. Must we make enemies of this younger generation too?”
On 10th July 1933, Rothermere continued:
“I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful distracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia. They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call “Nazi atrocities” which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence such as are inevitable among a nation half as big again as ours, but which have been generalized, multiplied and exaggerated to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny”.
On 7th December 1933, Hitler wrote to Rothermere in person:
“I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial public support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the enduring pacification of Europe. Just as we are fanatically determined to defend ourselves against attack, so do we reject the idea of taking the initiative in bringing about a war. I am convinced that no one who fought in the front trenches during the world war, no matter in what European country, desires another conflict”.
Lord Rothermere had friendships with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and directed the Mail’s editorial stance towards them in the 1930s. Rothermere’s 1933 leader “Youth Triumphant” praised the new Nazi regime’s accomplishments, and was subsequently used as propaganda by them. In it, Rothermere predicted that:
“The minor misdeeds of individual Nazis would be submerged by the immense benefits the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany”.
Stan Cohen’s “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” outlines a clear explanation of the way in which the media and those in a position of political power define a social group as a threat to societal values and interests. Fanned by screaming media headlines, Cohen demonstrates how this leads to such groups being marginalised and vilified in the popular press and public imagination, inhibiting rational debate about solutions to social problems that those marginalised groups are being scapegoated and blamed for creating.
Furthermore, he argued that moral panics serve to identify and expose the very fault lines of power in society. There is no consensus, only a constant attempt to superficially justify and maintain a corrupt system of gross power imbalances and crass politically created inequalities.
Conservative by name, and regressive by nature. We must continue to challenge and dismantle the Tory-directed media monologues.
And if you have any doubts about the right-wing stranglehold on the media, just go ask the Guardian editor-in-chief what happened to the hard drives that held Edward Snowden’s very informative disclosures.
Yes, that’s the unmistakable sound of jackboots approaching.
Please sign the petition to Speak up for decency in British politics
Update from Mike Sivier, 11th March, 2014: Naughty, naughty Daily Mail! Miliband story creates torrent of complaints