Crap Journalism

Presented without comment.


After Low

I am a devotee of Sir David Low, the New Zealand born political cartoonist who, for me, was the greatest political cartoonist of the Twentieth Century, and that even without the creation of Colonel Blimp.

Cartoonists today who are wise and understand their profession’s history, still call upon Low, to often devastating effect.

The latest is Chris Liddell, in tomorrow’s Observer. First, the original:

then Riddell:

Nice one, Chris.

Read This

I’ve given up taking the Guardian now, following the horrific re-design. The paper’s long rightwards drift has troubled me for years and the re-design is finally the catalyst.

I still look at things online. I have always enjoyed her columns, even when they’re about her specialist subject, fashion.

Lots of people disagree with her. Today, she’s written about Roman Polanski, and Hollywood’s attitude to him in the awareness that he is a convicted and admitted child-rapist. Nobody’s disagreeing with her now.

Read this.

Uncollected Thoughts: ‘Fire and Fury’ by Michael Wolff

Yes, I have been out to buy, and read, the book of 2018 so far, Michael Wolff’s insider account of the Trump Administration. Though the circumstances are completely different, I confess to a certain outlaw tingle in acquiring this controversial tome that I’ve not experienced since the late Eighties, when a mate who’d been to Canada smuggled back into the country a copy of Peter Wright’s infamous Spy Catcher, and lent it to me (and to think that I could pick it up dirt cheap on eBay, thirty years later).

Fire and Fury has been denounced thoroughly by the Orange-Faced One (cue up that good old Mandy Rice-Davies quote again, please), and also by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, a certain sign that Wolff has got more right than wrong. It’s supposedly based on multiple tape-backed interviews, with over 200 White House insiders. And it creates an interesting conundrum.

Because the contents of the book, its exposure of the reality of life in the White House under the unrealistic figure of President Donald J Trump, are at one and the same time completely believable and utterly unbelievable. This is not the dichotomy it seems to be: I find nothing in any of the accounts, starting with the unwanted winning of the Election in November 2016 and ending with the final defenestration of alt.right idealogue Steve Bannon from whatever position he had in the Administration, to be in the least bit unrealistic. That they are simultaneously impossible to credit is down to the fact that the world in which we lived has suddenly been demonstrated to be fatally flawed. Nothing in this book should have happened, and I don’t say that on any political grounds. I say it because in any rational universe, including the one I’ve always believed myself to occupy for most of my sixty-odd years, this couldn’t happen. This catalogue of supreme stupidity, naked opportunism, psychological flaws and simple but complete absence of any strategic sense or ability to recognise the world as it is couldn’t be demonstrated by anyone capable of getting to the proximity of great power.

In that respect, Fire and Fury ought to be a great ironic bellow of humour, a satirical classic. I’ve read books like that from time to time, books predicting a future of a hapless, idiot President, oblivious to the world around him, his decisions taken by cleverer but malevolent underlings pushing their own agendas.

Such books were never funny, because the writers were, basically, crap at making their scenarios remotely plausible. This time, it’s not funny because we’re living in the book, it’s events and actions are news stories we’ve lived through already. It’s a shame that Wolff does such a better job than any in making it plausible.

There are so many revelations that the Press have already seized upon (the secret of the Trump hairdo is a particularly compelling detail). The first, and which has been so thoroughly challenged thus far, is that Trump never wanted to win the Election. He was only ever in it to create a stir, to build publicity for himself, to lose (and claim the Election was stolen), and propel himself into massive TV returns with his own, newly-built Network.

This chimes with a lot of analysis I read, from the start of the campaign in early 2016, to the eve of the Republican Convention, which makes it particularly plausible to me. In this analysis, it is Bannon’s intervention in the campaign, round about the time of the infamous ‘pussy-grab’ tape, that turns the tide, and when the Presidency was secured, against a three million vote shortfall in the popular vote, and to everyone’s shock, Trump decides he always wanted it.

But Trump is the least capable person of being President, as his most recent Tweet, only today, amply demonstrates. The rest of the book is a stage-by-stage account of faction-fighting in the White House, between the triple poles of Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka, and the nearest thing to an official, but in no way actual Chief of Staff, Reince Preibus.

It’s a Never-Ending, indeed Unwinnable Battle, for two reasons. One is that Trump is completely unmanageable and has no idea what he wants to do, except that he’s vulnerable to the last person to speak to him. And the other is that there is nobody in any position of authority who has even so much practical competence at the business of the White House as would you or I, dropped into the role – any role – at this exact instant, no warning.

You keep reading things and wondering how on Earth they could think that was a sensible thing to do, but the more you read of these individuals – whether they are clashing or simply trying to cope – you realise that they genuinely do not know any better.

This book depicts an insane situation, manned by those who may not be clinically diagnosable as insane but who, to any normal person’s eyes, as undeniably mad.

The fear is twofold: that we live in their world, and that this book effectively goes up to only August 2017. What the hell have they been doing since?

I’m glad to have the chance to have read this. To me, I find it all believable, and unlike others, I do not think the revelations to be outside the competence of a skillful journalist, given the kind of access Wolff was afforded, to elicit, nor do I find the direct speech to be implausible in most cases. Bannon’s rant towards the end, yes, though by this point we have seen enough of this crazy bastard for everything he ‘says’ to be directly in line with what he believes.

So, there you go. Grab a copy and read it for yourself. If you find it beyond credibility, I envy your innocence. I would rather live in your world than their’s.

Me and the Royal Wedding

Well, shucks, here we go again, there’s gonna be a Wedding! Bread and circuses are once again being served to the proletariat, as hard and heavy as the Press and TVF can shovel it down their throats, as welcome relief/calculated distraction from the state of this dismal country and the even more dismal state of its so-called Government. As I seem to remember David Byrne once saying, same as it ever was.

Now don’t get me wrong. Insofar as this involves a young man and a young woman who are in love and who wish to marry and spend their lives together, then good luck to them, I’ll wish them well. But as I know neither of the couples, in the same way that I do not know either of John Smith or Alison Jones who also announced their engagement today, I do not feel any need to know about it, and especially not any of the details.

But I’m going to be bombarded with them from now until next spring, aren’t I? No matter how reclusive I am, how hermit-like I have become, I am destined to know more about the bloody thing than any sane human being could want to know, short of going on strike and camping out in Loughrigg Cave for the duration. If it wasn’t so effing cold at the moment, I would be tempted.

The thing is, I have been here before, I have form for this. Like any person of my generation, we have walked the walk multiple times.

The first one was Anne and Mark in 1973. I really don’t remember the roots of my aversion to the Royal Family and the sycophancy that we’re supposed to display towards them, but it firmly was in place by that time. I was three days past my eighteenth birthday, I was at University, it was a Wednesday, and I remember that detail because we had no lectures, ever, on Wednesday afternoon, so I headed home, let myself in, shouted a hello to those in the lounge, glued to the affair, and bounded upstairs, not to come down until everything was long since over.

This got me in trouble from my mother, not because of my deliberate insult to the Royal Family, which was already firmly established and accepted as just one of the many ways in which her elder child was irredeemably weird. No, I got into trouble, and on this occasion rightly so, because she had earlier that day driven across to Hulme to collect my Nanna, her mother, to enable her to watch the Wedding in colour.

In my urge to have nothing to do with proceedings, I did not even pop my head round the door to say hello to Nanna, though in my marginal defence, I was not called when Mam left to take her home. This one I acknowledge, and am ashamed about. On the other hand, I have no regrets about boycotting the event.

The next one was the biggie, Chas and Di in 1981, the source of the New Sycophancy that is with us to today, having survived the wobble induced by Diana’s death. This time, avoiding the television broadcast brought no complaints from my mother, and I pushed off into Manchester, on the bus, which was still running despite the country having come to a standstill for the nuptials of the Heir to the Throne. I mean, this was the big one, patriotism-wise, the necessary first step towards ensuring the continuation of the Line (actually, it’s legally necessary for Heirs to be borne within wedlock).

Frankly, the only thing I genuinely do remember about the day was going with a mate to an evening festival, eating lots of sausage barms and feeling completely out of place among people who had loved the day and been seriously enthralled about everything. It felt very lonely.

Next one was Andrew and Fergie, which takes us to 1986. There was no shutting the country down for the day on this occasion, which was a Wednesday again. I had plans for this one. I was working for a big firm, in the centre of Manchester. Everybody knew me, and understood where I came from, especially when it came to my antic sense of humour, so I was looking forward for weeks in advance to a morning of stomping up and down the corridor and roaring out “Vive la Republique!” and “A la Lanterne!”.

I got shafted. About three weeks before the Glorious Day, I was approached by the Partners in Manchester. An Articled Clerk was qualifying in London and leaving, but his successor wasn’t able to start for one month. London desperately needed someone to fill in, to manage and run down his workload so that the replacement could start with a clean desk: I was asked to be that rescuer.

I wasn’t being asked because I was the best Assistant Solicitor we had but because I was the most flexible. Everybody else had houses (and mortgages) and would have found a shift to London incredibly difficult to manage. I would travel to London on Monday morning, return Friday evening (at the firm’s expense), and during the week I would live in a small flat above the office, which was usually provided for the benefit of partners who wanted to stay overnight to go the the Theatre, the Opera or a Show. All my food would be found for me (even if I nipped out for a KFC in the evening, provided I kept the receipt) and I was paid a London Allowance of £100.00 per week on top of my regular salary.

Plus one of my Manchester partners privately warned me that if there wasn’t enough work for me to do, I should have a private word with him and he’d get me pulled out.

The only time there was not really work to do was the last week, by which time I’d got the workload down to three files, and was exhausting myself badgering the same three opposite numbers every day, for updates. I never did get those files done, but my efforts were still very much appreciated, and I got on well with all those Londoners down there for the month I was intruded into their working lives.

The problem was, exactly in the middle of my London exile, on the Wednesday of the third week, was the Royal Wedding. Taking place in the very city where I was currently temporarily resident. I had some of the secretaries coming up to me, willing to slip upstairs to my little room (with its bed), not because of a sudden overwhelming lust for my Mancunian body (as if) but because they assumed I would have been supplied with a TV (the firm weren’t going to buy one, no matter how small and cheap for one month’s use) and they could catch glimpses of the proceedings.

Now there were one or two of them, and I don’t just mean the ones of my age, who I would have prepared to bear with some of the ceremony if we were sat on my bed, but that was no go.

And sadly, so was my plan to roar Republican slogans half the day. I didn’t know them well enough to know if they knew me well enough to take my intended sloganeering in the spirit in which it was intended, namely, that I meant every word of it, but, well, it was only Martin being Martin, ignore him.

Actually, that’s the last one I can remember having any significance. Anne and her second, the one we never hear anything of, Chas and Camilla, these were all quiet affairs as befits divorcees trying again. Eddy and thingummybob was also quiet I think (I can’t bear the idea of looking it up to see if there was massive public fuss and I’ve just forgotten about it completely).

Of course, William and Kate-with-the-bum-everyone-slathered-over-except-me was another big deal, but that didn’t take place until 2011, and as I no longer had a television by that time, ignoring it wasn’t anything like as big a deal. And the same will go for Harry the ginger and Meaghan. Indeed, by this point, I’ve forgotten just how many Royal Weddings I’ve ignored down the last forty-odd years. It’s no longer a protest, but a force of habit.

Still, at least I get the chance to flex old muscles again. It’s an ill wind that blows no Republican any good.


The Presidential League Table (and Britain’s equivalent)

He isn’t even mentioned…

I’ve been an enthusiastic student of American political history since the early Eighties, the catalyst for this interest being Garry Trudeau’s consistently funny satirical newspaper strip, Doonesbury (currently in long-term decline into significance due to Trudeau’s decision in February 2014 to take it into Sunday only format). Well before the Guardian picked up the daily strip in 1981, I had been picking up collections at Comics Marts, including as many of the older books as I could lay my hands on.

Being an American politico-satirical strip, many of its references were meaningless to me. One such was the idea of a ‘Joe Welch moment’. That was referenced in Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men (which I grabbed after borrowing the film on video) and The Final Days.

Between the two, I started to realise how little I knew about such history, even as I had been so ignorant about Watergate, an event I had lived through. So I started visiting the American History section of the Library. My first choice was an overlong, over-detailed, dry as dust book on the Red Menace era of the Fifties (I knew that this ‘Joe Welch’ moment was something to do with destroying Joe McCarthy) but the next one, though just as long, was considerably more interesting: David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, about the origins of the Vietnam War.

No matter what I read, I couldn’t find this bloody ‘Joe Welch moment’. What the hell was it, what did he say, what was the context? Well, my first link came from R.E.M., including the crucial lines from it over the middle eight of ‘Exhuming McCarthy’, from Green. But my final discovery was an accident: there was an ITV series in 1988 or ’89 about the history of television. I walked downstairs to speak to my mother one night when it was on, and discovered myself watching the whole thing by sheer accident.

I no longer pursue such history quite so avidly and haven’t for years, having absorbed a basic knowledge that lets me orient myself reasonably comfortably to anything that crops up. I began when Reagan was President, and it’s amazing to think that, in the decades that have followed, we have only had a further five Presidents since.

One thing I did take away from my years of amateur study was that there is a Presidential League Table. This is a fictional table, endlessly debated by historians, constantly arguing about its order, constantly open to change. It’s underlying notion is simple: it is a ranking of the (presently) 44 men who have been President of the USA in order of, for want of a better word, their greatness. (45 Presidencies, 44 men: Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms and counts twice).

Naturally, there’s no agreement upon order, given that Political partizanship plays a tremendous role in each person’s rankings, but there is a certain degree of consensus on the likes of Abraham Lincoln, who usually comes out on top, with Washington, Jefferson and the two Roosevelts somewhere close behind. And there is near-universal agreement that the bottom of the list belongs to the Twenty-Ninth President, William Gamaliel Harding, in perpetuity.

Despite the attempt by Glenn David Gold in his tremendously popular 2001 novel Carter Beats the Devil to portray Harding as the innocent victim of plots and smears, history is in one accord as painting him as a basically corrupt Ohio Machine Politician who saw nothing wrong with letting his cronies rip America off, left, right and centre, cf, the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal, which was on the point of breaking (and which might possibly have swung the 1924 Presiodential Election to the Democrats) when Harding died of pneumonia in San Francisco in 1923, to be succeeded by his personally incorruptible Vice President, Calvin Coolidge.

The only time Harding changes place in the Presidential League Table is when a new President is elected, and he automatically drops one rank, numerically.

So it’s been, ever since I discovered the existence of this highly interesting thought experiment.

Since the year 2000, more or less, I have experienced many disappointments. One of the most minor of this is the knowledge that, barring the sudden discovery of personal immortality, I would never live to discover if history would fulfill my prediction that, one day, Harding will be lifted into second bottom by George W. Bush.

Which is why I find it deeply ironic that even before he took his perjured Oath of Allegiance, Donald Trump rendered all those long years of speculation and prediction completely meaningless, by beating ‘Dubya’ to the bottom. Looks like Harding may drift up as far as third bottom, but who gives a toss about that?

There is no such equivalent concept among British Prime Ministers, or if there is it’s an entirely academic exercise that never gets into the public press, where the howls about the complete discrepancy of opinions over Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair would render the whole thing completely unmanageable. But in this decade, my regrets about not being around to see History pin Bush 43 to the donkey’s arse did develop an amusing little parallel in the concern that I wouldn’t be around to see History hand out a similar designation to David Cameron as bottom of the Prime Ministerial League Table.

Only to see Theresa May instantly crush his claim so thoroughly that as long as there are Prime Ministers there is no chance whatsoever of anyone digging their way beneath her.

At least, I hope so…