Tuesday 30 May 2023

Nick Cohen and Media Solidarity

At long last the sexual harassment allegations against Nick Cohen are out in the open. And that the New York Times had to be relied upon to lift the lid everyone on politics social media has known for years says everything about the solidarity among the country's top hacks, reporters, and opinion column writers. Establishment feminists have decided they're more establishment than feminist and have ridden to Cohen's rescue, while (albeit more low key) prominent industry women have signalled likewise. Another case of class beating out gender, you might say.

There are fewer closed occupations than journalism at the top papers and broadcasters and the situation has only got worse these last 30 years. Oxford leans into this, proudly boasting that "Oxford's student newspapers and radio stations have long been the training ground for some of Britain’s most successful journalists and broadcasters." A position at Oxbridge will plug aspirant journalists into the networks and affinities that can be worked to get a position in one of the London newsrooms. The old local press and regional TV are shrinking, and the paths from cub reporter running stories on off-licence robberies to anchoring national news shows have largely vanished. Add to this the politics one needs to get on - a semi-coy centre rightish/centre leftish outlook to start off with - narrows the already attenuated point of entry even further. The result of common entries, common contacts, common experiences, and common outlooks is groupthink over what are and aren't the most important issues, what is the truth and what isn't, an entitled attitude and, with all of that, a strong sense of a common identity and consensus about what their professional interests are.

This manifests itself in two ways. A fierce defence of what they take to be the status quo of politics: moderate (sounding) Conservatism and Milquetoast Labourism, and an antipathy toward anything that upsets the settled character of two-party politics. This is partly because, in politics journalism, success and promotion depends on the relationships one cultivates among ministers, shadow ministers, rising stars, bitter-but-connected losers, and old soaks on the backbenches. Being too enthusiastic in holding politicians to account is not the done thing if one wants to play the game. And if the masses suddenly intrude, as they did with Corbynism, the media will treat it like an abomination. This experience not only showed how the political mythologies they had created were just that and that they knew nothing about what they were employed to understand, Corbynism directly threatened their jobs as mouthpieces for/influences on leading politicians. Small wonder that some within the coterie are for limiting mass participation in politics altogether. They have an interest in keeping it a game for elites.

The second are attempts at operating a closed shop by expelling/blocking "outsiders". In recent years, there have been renewed efforts at excluding new left wing voices from the mainstream. We saw this with campaigns against Novara Media people taking up slots on TV that belonged to acceptable journalists as of right. Owen Jones with his outpost at The Graun has been similarly targetted. The megaphone transphobia of supposedly liberal journalists, and the incessant antisemitism campaign waged by the same are efforts attempting to close the upper echelons of the media even further, as well as making clear the costs of refusing to toe their party lines are higher in terms of commissions lost, promotions missed out on, and CVs filed in the bin.

Cohen figures here because of services rendered. He happily attacked the left and filled an entire book with straw men to make his media buddies feel comfortable cheering on Iraq and other military adventures. His was useful in the centrist assault on Corbynism, thereby playing his own part in saddling us with the Tories for another five wasted years, and has weighed in on the trans bashing. Because nothing speaks truth to power like piling on a vulnerable, under-attack minority. As a key figure in centrist media culture, he is seen as too useful to be brought down by his wandering hands and indiscriminately-offered dick pics. And so the performative solidarity shown by the liberal and centrist press pack with the MeToo movement is, and will always be trumped by the affections and feelings of real solidarity with a sex pest - as long as they use their individual position and prominence to protect their collective position and prominence.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

In a previous job I worked in a civil service media office and developed a twitch from Cohen and his ilk constantly being referred to as "lefty" journalists.

Phil said...

A position at Oxbridge will plug aspirant journalists into the networks and affinities that can be worked to get a position in one of the London newsrooms.

Will it? Wish I'd known that when I was an aspiring journalist at, um, Cambridge.

How many Oxbridge arts graduates do you think there are every year? I wrote for the Cambridge student paper Stop Press for a while; of the three section editors I can think of offhand, one went to work for Granta and had a solid but unspectacular career in publishing, one worked in TV but is now an artist, and the third teaches Alexander Technique. The chances you've heard of the first two are minimal, the third nil. The editor of Stop Press in that period was Andrew Rawnsley, admittedly - but there's only one editor.

I think you're conflating the Andrew Rawnsley route - which exists but is highly competitive - with a different kind of career path, exemplified by a conversation I had with a fellow graduate en route to a mutual friend's wedding, a year or so after graduation. To make conversation - I didn't know the guy particularly - I asked what he was thinking of doing next. He said he was thinking of journalism. I felt this was something I was qualified to comment on; not only had I been a student journalist (which he hadn't, as far as I knew), I'd just been rejected by both the big local newspaper operations of the time, so knew a bit about how tough it was out there. I asked where he was thinking of applying. "I thought the Sunday Times," he said. (He actually went to the FT.)

Oxbridge isn't the inside track - Oxbridge is where you meet people who are on the inside track, and occasionally have a very small chance of hitching a ride with them.

Anonymous said...

Cohen, pre-2001, was very critical of Blair. He once said that what got him out of bed in the morning was taking a pot-shot at Blair. Then suddenly in 2002 he changed to his present personna. He was one of the first commentators to say that he supported the invasion of Iraq even if there were no WMD (at a point in time when Blair and his entourage might have just realised that there were not going to be many WMD in Iraq). (The other early mover in this direction was Aaronovitch.) He recommended Chalabi as ruler of Iraq after having tea with him for an hour (and said that the fact that the CIA had doubts about Chalabi was a reason to support him!)

I often wonder whether the change in Cohen's personna (and the ludicrous arguments he deployed) came about because someone found out about his wandering hands.


Anonymous said...

Nick Cohen is a stain on journalism and deserves the kicking he has had coming for a long long time (according to my sources (easy, this journalism lark, innit?))
His defenders all appear to be hate-fuelled transphobes too which is er interesting

Zoltan Jorovic said...

The moment when a journalist becomes a columnist is usually a sign that they have ceased to be interested in afflicting the comfortable, or holding power to account, or uncovering secrets, or exposing the truth, or any of the many different ways of describing whatever it is a good journalist is supposed to be doing. Once they become a 'personality' and air their opinions rather than trying to tell us what really happened they have become just another entertainer. I suppose that having people prepared to pay you a lot for your thoughts on more or less anything must have a fertilizing effect on the ego. You start to believe that you really are special, that your opinions really matter, and that you have insight that few others possess. In the same way politicians in power inevitably succumb to delusion and self-importance, and should never be allowed to hold office for more than 8 years, columnists lose touch with reality and any sense of self-criticism. They think they are untouchable, and can do and say what they like.

JN said...

"...thereby playing his own part in saddling us with the Tories for another five wasted years..."

And with fucking Starmer, which means that the Labour government (assuming they win the GE, which is not guaranteed) will essentially also be wasted years.

Blissex said...

«How many Oxbridge arts graduates do you think there are every year? [...] Oxbridge isn't the inside track - Oxbridge is where you meet people who are on the inside track, and occasionally have a very small chance of hitching a ride with them.»

Of course it is far more important to have gone to a top independent school than even to Oxbridge.

«A No10 aide admits that Brown does not have the natural empathy with the middle classes that Blair did. "The moment Tony sent his son to the Oratory those voters thought - 'he gets it',"»

But Oxbridge is still the inside track, but not necessarily to first-class inside positions such as "a position in one of the London newsrooms", but for most to second-class and third-class inside positions, which is still very valuable. Art graduates from "second tier" places, never mind "third tier" ones, have no inside track, even to third-class inside positions, and end up working "bulk headcount" jobs.

Blaise Pascal: "It is a great advantage to be a man of quality, since that allows a man of eighteen or twenty to be on his way to success whereas another man could have to wait until he is fifty, which is a clear gain of thirty years."

Dialectician1 said...

As Friedman and Laurison conclude in their research, 'The Class Ceiling. Why it Pays to be Privileged' (2019), that even attendance at institutions like Oxford and Cambridge does not wash away the advantages of class background. Class privilege is not a thing, rather it is a process that takes place behind the scenes across generations. The authors describe this as the 'invisible hand up': where progress in the elite professions is very rarely gained by merit alone (unless of course merit is measured by those who previously came from the same privileged class positions).

This book review of the autobiography by our favourite Corbyn-loving journo from the Graun, Polly Toynebee, sums it up:

"She is deeply aware of how lucky she is, her talent eclipsed by the sheer luck of being born in the time and place she was. Breezing into Oxford despite her lack of qualifications, she was able to do the same at the Observer, sliding into a job, as she puts it..."