Former BBC Producer Explains Why Media Are Liberally Biased
Americans are likely not familiar with Sir Antony Jay, but may become so soon given the knighted Brit’s just-released book entitled “Confessions of a Reformed BBC Producer” in which he explains why media are liberally biased.
An excerpt of the book was published by Britain’s Telegraph Sunday, and, much like Bernard Goldberg’s “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News,” gave a first-hand account as to what makes a television network lean so strongly to the left.
In fact, in an era when liberals are carping and whining about conservative talk radio, Jay's book should be required reading (h/t Hot Air, emphasis added throughout):
I think I am beginning to see the answer to a question that has puzzled me for the past 40 years. The question is simple - much simpler than the answer: what is behind the opinions and attitudes of what are called the chattering classes? They are that minority characterised (or caricatured) by sandals and macrobiotic diets, but in a less extreme form found in the Guardian, Channel 4, the Church of England, academia, showbusiness and BBC News and Current Affairs, who constitute our metropolitan liberal media consensus - though the word “liberal” would have Adam Smith rotating at maximum velocity in his grave. Let's call it "media liberalism".
It is of particular interest to me because for nine years (1955-1964) I was part of this media liberal consensus. For six of those nine years I was working on Tonight, a nightly BBC current affairs television programme. My stint coincided almost exactly with Macmillan's premiership, and I do not think my ex-colleagues would quibble if I said we were not exactly diehard supporters. But we were not just anti-Macmillan; we were anti-industry, anti-capitalism, anti-advertising, anti-selling, anti-profit, anti-patriotism, anti-monarchy, anti-Empire, anti-police, anti-armed forces, anti-bomb, anti-authority. Almost anything that made the world a freer, safer and more prosperous place, you name it, we were anti it.
It was (and is) essentially, though not exclusively, a graduate phenomenon. From time to time it finds an issue that strikes a chord with the broad mass of the nation, but in most respects it is wildly unrepresentative of national opinion. When the Queen Mother died the media liberal press dismissed it as an event of no particular importance, and were mortified to see the vast crowds lining the route for her funeral, and the great flood of national emotion that it released.
Although I was a card-carrying media liberal for the best part of nine years, there was nothing in my past to predispose me towards membership.
In Jay’s opinion, media members “look up at society from below, from the point of view of the lowest group, the governed,” and “see the dangers of the organism growing ever more rigid and oppressive until it fossilises into a monolithic tyranny.”
With this in mind, when a British politician named John Profumo became involved in a sex scandal in 1963 which was believed to have led to the demise of the Conservative government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, things changed:
[T]he emotion that gripped us all was sheer uncontrollable glee. It was a wonderful vindication of all we believed. It proved the essential rottenness of the institution.
Ever since 1963, the institutions have been the villains of the media liberals. The police, the armed services, the courts, political parties, multinational corporations - when things go wrong, they are the usual suspects. In my media liberal days our attitude to institutions varied from suspicion to hostility. From our point of view, the view from below, they were all potential threats to human freedom. Even though I worked in a great institution, I did not identify with it. To describe a colleague as anti-BBC was a term of praise.
Sound like American media? Almost hauntingly so:
The second factor which shaped our media liberal attitudes was a sense of exclusion. We saw ourselves as part of the intellectual élite, full of ideas about how the country should be run, and yet with no involvement in the process or power to do anything about it. Being naïve in the way institutions actually work, yet having good arts degrees from reputable universities, we were convinced that Britain's problems were the result of the stupidity of the people in charge. We ignored the tedious practicalities of getting institutions to adopt and implement ideas.
This ignorance of the realities of government and management enabled us to occupy the moral high ground. We saw ourselves as clever people in a stupid world, upright people in a corrupt world, compassionate people in a brutal world, libertarian people in an authoritarian world. We were not Marxists but accepted a lot of Marxist social analysis. Some people called us arrogant; looking back, I am afraid I cannot dispute the epithet.
We also had an almost complete ignorance of market economics. That ignorance is still there. Say ''Tesco'' to a media liberal and the patellar reflex says, "Exploiting African farmers and driving out small shopkeepers". The achievement of providing the range of goods, the competitive prices, the food quality, the speed of service and the ease of parking that attract millions of shoppers every day does not show up on the media liberal radar.
For those unfamiliar, Tesco is the leading grocery chain in Great Britain, and, in fact, is the fourth largest retail outlet in the world behind Wal-Mart, Carrefour of France, and Home Depot. As such, substitute Wal-Mart for Tesco in the above paragraph, and it is virtually the identical sentiments that American media have for that retailer.
Fascinating similarity, wouldn’t you agree? Yet, Jay wasn’t done:
For a time it puzzled me that after 50 years of tumultuous change the media liberal attitudes could remain almost identical to those I shared in the 1950s. Then it gradually dawned on me: my BBC media liberalism was not a political philosophy, even less a political programme. It was an ideology based not on observation and deduction but on faith and doctrine. We were rather weak on facts and figures, on causes and consequences, and shied away from arguments about practicalities. If defeated on one point we just retreated to another; we did not change our beliefs. We were, of course, believers in democracy. The trouble was that our understanding of it was structurally simplistic and politically naïve. It did not go much further than one-adult-one-vote.
We ignored the whole truth, namely that modern Western civilisation stands on four pillars, and elected governments is only one of them. Equally important is the rule of law. The other two are economic: the right to own private property and the right to buy and sell your property, goods, services and labour. (Freedom of speech, worship, and association derive from them; with an elected government and the rule of law a nation can choose how much it wants of each). We never got this far with our analysis. The two economic freedoms led straight to the heresy of free enterprise capitalism - and yet without them any meaningful freedom is impossible.
But analysis was irrelevant to us. Ultimately, it was not a question of whether a policy worked but whether it was right or wrong when judged by our media liberal moral standards. There was no argument about whether, say, capital punishment worked. If retentionists came up with statistics showing that abolition increased the number of murders we simply rejected them.
Incredible look into the past that greatly explains what’s happened across the Pond in the States. Yet, Jay’s view of the present was even more worrisome:
[T]he media liberal ideology is stronger than ever. Today, we see our old heresy becoming the new orthodoxy: media liberalism has now been adopted by the leaders of all three political parties, by the police, the courts and the Churches. It is enshrined in law - in the human rights act, in much health and safety legislation, in equal opportunities, in employment protections, in race relations and in a whole stream of edicts from Brussels.
It is not so much that their ideas and arguments are harebrained and impracticable: some of their causes are in fact admirable. The trouble - you might even say the tragedy - is that their implementation by governments eager for media approval has progressively damaged our institutions. Media liberal pressure has prompted a stream of laws, regulations and directives to champion the criminal against the police, the child against the school, the patient against the hospital, the employee against the company, the soldier against the army, the borrower against the bank, the convict against the prison - there is a new case in the papers almost every day, and each victory is a small erosion of the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution.
*****Update: For those that are interested, the editor of the Centre for Policy Studies, Tim Knox, has forward a PDF version of Jay's book/pamphlet for your review and dissemination here.