R.F.Wilson writes from Fleet Street, in London: Now that politicians across the world have gone on their holidays hacks are struggling to find stories to cover. Apart from journos in Britain that is who have been blessed by the useless Olympic Games that would generate tonnes of material that could be reported as news even though it’s not. But hacks in other countries are obviously in a less envious position these days, actually having to search for things to report about, having gotten used to filling the airtime and pages in their respective rags with endless reports about the goings on in the corridors of power.
You are probably well accustomed to the sight: a hack stands outside the White House, 10 Downing Street or the Elysée Palace, looking all informed and important, banging on about some irrelevance that he or she supposedly learned from the folks who inhabit the premises behind him/her. Blah-blah-blah, informed sources tell me… Blah-blah-blah, senior officials have confirmed to me…
And you just know that it is all bollocks and that the man or woman on screen has never even been inside the White House, 10 Downing Street or the Elysée Palace. But the mere closeness to the supposed powerbrokers, presidents and prime ministers and their cronies is supposed to signal to the humble consumer of that rubbish that it is coming from the very centre of decision making, breaking news and all.
Politicians and hacks need each other. They depend on each other, the former anxious to get the oxygen of publicity and to feed all sorts of propaganda to the masses, including convincing the nation that they are busy as well, and the latter to have access to news stories that are not actually proper news stories but start to look like ones when politicians are thrown into them. As in: ‘The prime minister said that…’ Or, ‘The president has announced that…’ Or, ‘Ministers are saying…’
So is it any wonder that politicians and hacks are in cahoots with each other, helping each other to make their lives so much easier. When was the last time that hacks uncovered some gigantic political scandal and brought down a government or a head of state or government? Exactly. The days of ‘Watergate’ have long gone, even though corruption at the top is as rife as ever and wars are started on false pretences and whole nations are bankrupted by politicians and bankers working tougher. Investigative journalism as such has disappeared, with banks and big corporations having realised that advertising is the best way to control the media. So advertise they do and the media outlets dependent on advertising revenues toe the party line and keep quiet about lots of things that they should be screaming about.
With politicians, though, it is slightly different. If hacks get out of line, they are cut off from information and are not invited to all sorts of gatherings where bits of juicy political gossip are revealed – in strict confidence. And once hacks lose that connection, they are dead technically speaking. So that is why they are so careful in what they say or write about politicians.
The funniest part about this whole weird arrangement is that politicians feed hacks all sorts of bull and then believe what they hear and read about themselves to be true. It’s a vicious circle that produces some of stupidest decisions imaginable. And there’s no way out of this absurd situation really until hacks start sticking to the principal of a dog and a lamp post that guided their work in the past. Not until then.