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Lazy UK Journalists Parrot Anti-EU Talking Points (SHOCK!)

by the stormy present Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 09:36:04 AM EST

From columnist Charlemagne at The Economist:

Spoon Feeding Lazy Journalists -- Open Europe: the Eurosceptic group that controls British coverage of the EU

Well, that got my attention.

WHAT explains the fierce hostility of the British press towards the European Union? It is a complicated question, and any answer must take account of things like the ferocity of the British press in general (a product of culture and competition between lots of national titles) and the real scepticism of the British political machine towards the EU, which trickles down into public discourse.

But I think people in Brussels ignore at their peril the impact of a small, but assiduous Eurosceptic campaign group, Open Europe.

Oh, them.


Calling itself an independent think tank, which it is not, Open Europe does two exceedingly clever things to influence British press coverage of Europe. Its (admirably multi-national) team of young researchers reads the English-language, French, Dutch, Belgian, German and Nordic press every day, and translates and links to stories that show the EU in a bad light, in a daily press summary that has very wide circulation among political reporters. Secondly, they produce special reports that delve into the detail of EU legislation and the economics of the EU, and produce hack-friendly, pre-digested reports on how awful the EU is, which duly sail into the press.

I am sure that well over half the stories in the British daily press on the EU are directly inspired by Open Europe press releases and tip-offs. Many of those articles are one-sided, inaccurate and verging on the hysterical. But here is the thing, I do not really blame Open Europe. They are a political campaign outfit, and campaigning is what they do. I do not share their opinions on a lot of things, and I think they play fast and loose with complicated sets of data. But the real reason their work generates so much duff journalism is that Britain has such depressingly duff newspapers.

Open Europe feeds on three big facts about the average London based journalist. They are very, very lazy, so love being spoon-fed stories. They are pack animals: once the EU has become a target for vitriolic abuse in one paper, all the others follow, because it winds readers up into a nice frenzy and there is no danger of anyone from the EU suing them. The EU also alarms journalists in London at some level, because they do not understand it and it makes their brains hurt to try, so they yearn for someone to explain to them in simple terms why it is (as they suspect) a plot by foreigners to run Britain.

What Charlemagne does next is track a specific story, from its birth as a highly suspect Open Europe talking point to its reporting in several British newspapers (and the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal) -- two of which add caveats or context, but the rest of which just regurgitate the pre-digested Euroskeptic claptrap.  It's interesting.  Read the whole thing.

I think there are a few things going on here. Yes, Charlemagne is probably right about the laziness, which is hardly unique to the British press. But would they run this stuff unchallenged if it didn't fit in with the editors' worldviews or ideology? In other words, they've got a narrative and it fits the narrative, so it gets a pass.  I doubt they'd run a similar talking point touting the EU's benefits for Britain.

So then the real question is, what do you do to counter something like this?

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One might think that I might have some idea of how to begin to answer that question, but one would be wrong.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 09:41:12 AM EST
Well we need  someone to fund a similar pro-EU research project, finding someone who will pay the range of multilingual researchers, isnt somewhere id even know where to begin. after that the think tank either needs to sart throwing the proper stories at  reporters and editors as a blizard, or make contact and then start bleed in things into the narative slowly.

Overcoming the inertia of ideas  will be hard though


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 10:02:09 AM EST
However, tsp's

But would they run this stuff unchallenged if it didn't fit in with the editors' worldviews or ideology?

indicates that just the think-tank wouldn't be enough. You'd have to buy some editorsmedia. And, as we know, the business model of the media is such that it's advertising money that really owns media. So, unless and until advertisers with deep pockets and products with mainstream appeal start frowning on anti-EU coverage, it may never happen.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 10:19:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been saying this for nearly five years now, but you don't need deep pockets, or researchers. What you need is a web site with an official-looking header, a steady stream of not-very-throughly researched op-eds that can be promoted with email press releases, a postal address, possibly an office - which can be managed - and that's it.

That's all a lot of 'credible' Think Tanks really are.

The situation in the US is slightly different, because Washingon Think Tanks are farmed, so there's more of them and they do own real estate. This isn't necessary in either London or Brussels. It would certainly help to have a Westminster postal address rather than a Somerset one, but if the postal address is a registered office for accountancy purposes, not even that matters.

Press people parrot what they're given. That's how they work. They're conditioned to associate the words 'Think Tank' with credibility, and when there's a slow news day they're just as likely to print something with progressive spin as with reactionary spin.

The only reason the right does better at this is because they have the chutzpah to actually do it, rather than just thinking about doing it or talking about doing it.

Collectively, ET will continue to have minimal influence until this changes and we start driving the news cycle, instead of complaining and tutting that the Euro-sceptics are driving it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 10:32:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So how much does that cost?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 10:41:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So how much does that cost (bis) ?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:27:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Website adress: 10-100 euros/year

Design of website: 1000 - 10 000 euros (depending on who does it and what you want) or donated in kind.

Postal adress of cheap kind. Would be couple of 100 euros/year in Sweden including forwarding of the mail to somewhere else. Dunno about Britain.

Spamming away op-eds: Donated in kind I guess, otherwise labor costs would be expensive.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 03:04:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be delighted (and amazed) to see this project take the road on the basis you outline there!

I'm not a betting man, but I'd bet quite a bit we'll never see it.

Am I cynically saying "ain't gonna happen"?

Yes.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 03:27:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who 'round here has the time to take on another project and keep it going for years for no pay?

I don't.  

That's what funding gives you: the space/time to Do.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 03:38:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
People contribute here for no pay, and have done for years. People have been producing press releases here for years, for no pay.

This is just ET in a (virtual) suit with a little more focus.

It's not a trip to Pluto, or an attempt to climb Everest with a broken spoon.

Am I cynically saying "ain't gonna happen"?

You can say that it won't happen without you. Which is certainly your choice to make.

Oddly enough, that's not quite the same thing as saying that it can't happen at all, ever.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 03:56:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, waiting to see it.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 04:22:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't even think it's a matter of buying, it's a matter of narratives that conveniently reinforced an existing ideology. Without that built-in bias, how do you get traction?
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:21:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't owners sometimes make sure the editors have the required biases?

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:27:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ceebs:
Well we need  someone to fund a similar pro-EU research project, finding someone who will pay the range of multilingual researchers, isnt somewhere id even know where to begin.

i think you already did!
as tbg says below, ET has sorta started to do this.

except tink-tonks serve up ready-to-eat meals, we argue recipes in the kitchen.

the negative skew on the EU conditions brit public opinion, so now there's a reactive desire to counter that with snippets which can educate people to see the other side of the story.

very worthy, but the risk is that this t-t would be as skewed to the positive, which i repeat is necessary, but constrictive.

the work we do here hashing stuff out is more interesting than coming up with predigested soundbytes, but i see the propaganda value, though there's something off about it too, i guess because it's reactive, i dunno.

how do you stay impartial once you're branded as euro yes-men?

perhaps the anti EU sentiment sells papers because it's irrational, therefore man-bites-dog. in which case the calm voice of reason is going to be backpage news, like the rain forecast, it's a given.

people need truth, but they don't trust amen corners either...

can't make it add up somehow.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Apr 2nd, 2010 at 07:55:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given that Charlemagne is one of the premier sources of anti-EU spin in the British press (but of the serious kind, which gets repeated by people who think they are smarter than lazy journalists, because they read a sophisticated outfit like the Economist), this article is highly ironic.

Of course, s/he's just trying to look objective when s/he is nothing but.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:04:30 PM EST
In my original draft of this post, I did have a section on the irony of this argument coming from this particular source, but in the end I deleted it because it seemed secondary to the larger question, which is... what do we do about it?
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:19:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is clearly a diversionary move on the part of Charlemagne...

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:21:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is Charlemagne one person?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:30:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:33:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 12:37:11 PM EST
Interesting... while being a competing Think Tank is part of it... surely one thing we can start doing as we are is comparing anti-EU stories that really annoy us with Open Europe press releases?

Charlemagne has done this with one story, but part of the job is to do this for as many stories as we can. I know that the Daily Mail etc. are not going to be embarrassed by this and change their ways, but right now we don't even have a proper measure of Open Europe's influence. If we make that measurement, it can help - you can't campaign against Open Europe's influence without quantifying it...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 03:26:01 PM EST


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