Spin and the MSM

Spinners and Journalists, who depends upon whom?

Son of the Manse and his thugSon of the Manse and his thug
There is always a steady stream of criticism directed towards the MSM, not all is deserved. In the past we have praised Fraser Nelson for his work, but his recent article on Damian McBride was terrible. As a spin doctor McBride will always be measured alongside Alistair Campbell, awkward that. For Campbell was a different sort of person doing a different job. The term spin doctor covers just about anything the person using the term would like it to mean. The job of media manipulation goes back at least to Bernard Ingham who helped Margaret Thatcher get her message across. Or at least that is how these things are explained. However, once you start manipulating, stopping is a hard thing to do and it's not just the message that gets distorted. Never once since the days of Ingham/Thatcher (or perhaps the other way around) has anyone in government worked out, then set out for all to see, why these spinners and their craft are needed; that insults the general public.

But it is also useful to leave things that way. For the lack of clarity protects the MSM. The laziness of the MSM became established in the Ingham period. Pre-Ingham the public and the politician either stood face to face or not. The message, although that's a word given to us by the spinners, let's say policy, was either clear or not. In the former case it was either accepted or rejected by the public. Rejection would have meant try again. Looking back it's hard to fault that arrangement. Are modern politicians so bad at their job, communicating with the voter? It insults the public to pretend that a middle man is needed to help them understand. Such a creature was absent in the late 1940s when many UK industries were first Nationalised then later when they were de-Nationalised. How did the public cope? Both of these acts were immense undertakings making the recent attempt at selling off the National Forests look trivial.

As suggested, Alistair Campbell was a different sort of spinner to Damian McBride. Campbell started out a journalist and drifted into a mutual dependency relationship with Blair, Brown and Mandelson to found Nulabour. Campbell worked for the party but was Blair's man. This must have irked the other two, especially Brown. He went out of his way to create his own version of the Republican Guard, the special force that protected Saddam Hussein. Apart from Ed Balls the other big name was McBride. He was recruited from the civil service and it speaks volumes about selection of staff and their loyalty that the whole McBride affair was possible and went on for so long. But then in this world anything is possible.

For McBride is now to be in charge of the media relations of the Catholic charity, CAFOD, the Catholic agency for overseas development. The Fraser Nelson article jokes about the penance of McBride and yes it should be possible for him to turn over a new leaf. But the question, "why does a charity need a spinner?" is ignored. Nelson seems to accept the role of spinners like McBride in the media without much analysis. For on the one hand Nelson talks of McBride -

the thuggishness and nastiness of the Brown operation – McBride was a graduate of the Brown-Balls school of character assassination and intimidation.

But then all is brushed aside as the true laziness of the MSM becomes clear when Nelson excuses McBride with -

But what McBride had a genius for was gossip: working out which nuggets of info are useful to journalists. Not embarrassing stuff, but examples of (say) Brown setting off the burglar alarm on his way to some weirdly early start to the day. The type of anecdote which lifts a column, gives it colour – and is gold dust to columnists. If McBride was your source, you didn't need very many others.

That's not forgiveness that's another mutual dependency relationship and just as bad as the one that gave life to Nulabour. Talk like that gives another life to another spinner, so the merry-go-round carries on. But then perhaps this is really what the Westminster bubble wants. Journalists may think that McBride is right for CAFOD but do remember that like all charities it gets public money, several million pounds every year. Is this right, is this an honest use of public money? And if not, now there's a story!

Tony Blair was always the professional Catholic, waving his 'faith' around to impress. It's faith these days, never religion. We can thank the spinners for that too, the manipulation of a private belief into something for public consumption and, so they hope, admiration. Then served up with a name change to make it seem modern and relevant. It is said Campbell disapproved of this, but did he resign? No he carried on, such devotion!

No doubt when Brown watched the Blair and Campbell relationship at work he thought - hmm, I'd like one of those! So yes, McBride was used but as Nelson says of him -

he was (and is) intelligent, cheerful, hardworking, and amiable to those he regarded as useful.

So let's not feel sorry for him. As for CAFOD, it used to be said that 'the devil has all the best tunes', let's hope as part of the fight back CAFOD have got the best man in charge of their media. At the time of writing the CAFOD website makes no mention of McBride's appointment. Probably wise that, for as in any good story there is a beginning a middle and an end. And in the end all spinners, like Campbell, become the story rather than the manipulator of it, so this omission delays the final chapter on McBride, for a while.

Footnote - And for another view on how the MSM operates see the excellent website Critical Reaction, HERE .