John Prescott, a waggish philanthropist or a chippy tub of lard?

22 Aug

Maligned or malignant? Lord Prescott

There are two curious and distinct images of Lord (John) Prescott, our former deputy Prime Minster.

First, the waggish but self-effacing campaigner, sports fan, proud husband, digital champion and philanthropist.

And then there’s this:

“…a chimp, a pustulating boil of resentment and class hatred, a chippy, thin-skinned puffed up laughing stock, an ocean-going tub of lard, groaning with arrogance, ego, hypocrisy, and inferiority, he’s an inadequate, inarticulate embarrassment, a disgrace to Britain at home and abroad.”

The latter comes courtesy of that moderate sophist, that unimpeachable speaker of truth and only the truth, the Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn. The former is, well, Prescott’s view – or at least the impression you get of him from his tweets.

So it’s easy to see why Prezza is cynical about the traditional media and why he described Twitter in yesterday’s Guardian as his ‘revelation’. For Prescott, the social web shows “the real me, not the distorted view peddled by the media”.

Prescott is not alone in the believing that truth is the winner now that the media is in the hands of the people, now that our ideas have a potential audience of most of the world, now that our utterances do not have to be mediated by the evil press and broadcast barons and their sadistic servants.

No, there are millions who would hold up that glorious collaboration of crowd-sourced truth, Wikileaks, as evidence that the military and Government can no longer hide from us classified and unpalatable information. Tens of millions would point to the many times when the very act of attempting to remove information from the internet caused it to be copied, publicised and distributed way beyond all proportion (aka ‘The Streisand Effect‘).

Marketers talk of ‘brand democratisation‘, telling us it is no longer possible for businesses to lie successfully about the quality of their products because their customers are now talking to each other. And celebrities are publishing their statements on their blogs and websites without any reference to journalists.

The truth is here for good, these millions will say, because the communications revolution has put it in the hands of the people.

Looking at the two contradictory versions of Prezza, you’d be tempted to agree with this world view, wouldn’t you?

Careful.

The agents of spin are at work all over the internet and there are probably proportionately as many of them in this supposed arena of free-flowing truth as there are in the traditional media.

No recent news story has highlighted this alarming fact more than a largely unreported tale hidden in the international pages of Thursday’s Guardian.

It claimed two Israeli groups had launched a course in ‘Zionist editing’ for Wikipedia in a bid to gain the upper hand in the online rhetorical conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Yesha Council, representing the Jewish settler movement, ran its first workshop last week in Jerusalem, teaching participants how to “rewrite” and “revise” some of the most “hotly disputed pages of the online reference site”. It says that, online, pro-Israeli activists are vastly outnumbered by pro-Palestinian voices.

Wikipedia is all about knowledge and the availability of knowledge. It relies wholly on the collaboration of a mass of owners of that knowledge to produce what is meant to be work of record.

I have no wish to go into the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian argument (I won’t even link to a reference; for one can never be immune from accusations of one-sidedness on this issue).

Yet, without doing this, I can still say for sure we are seeing a collaboration of those united against knowledge – because one side or the other, or both, must be wrong about the disputed facts.

Perhaps the contributors of the documents published by Wikileaks were also guilty of spin. Certainly many of them would have had vested interests in undermining the Western occupation of Afghanistan.

What about Prescott? It strikes me that maybe he is neither a philanthropist, nor a disgrace, but an unfairly maligned and fallible human being with some admirable and some unlovely traits.

The simple truth is that the Fourth Estate is no better or worse at honesty, truth-telling and sober objectivity than that the Fifth and vice versa. In other words, bloggers, tweeters and other web content creators are as likely to distort reality to suit their own ends as traditional media editors, proprietors, columnists, commentators and reporters.

So what’s the lesson?

Easy. Just do what you have always done and treat everything you read, see and hear with an appropriate level of scepticism. Ask yourself: “Why is she saying that? What are the beliefs that make him interested in this topic? What does she stand to gain?”

In the meantime, and to end on a positive note, I think we can rest assured that the move from traditional media to new media is certainly not causing a decrease in the general availability of that valuable commodity, truth.

Or, as Prezza said a few months after becoming Deputy Prime Minister in 1997:

“It’s moving in the right direction. It was in decline under the previous administration.”

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3 Responses to “John Prescott, a waggish philanthropist or a chippy tub of lard?”

  1. David Wells August 23, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    One difference being, of course, that traditional media editors and reporters have at least had some traditional training in how to report objectively, no matter how it is later spun to suit an agenda.
    That does have a some bearing on the reliability of a report which cannot be said for most internet commentators such as wikipedia or bloggers.

    • michaeltaggart August 23, 2010 at 8:07 am #

      Good point David, training is certainly a factor when the journalist has good intentions. However, you can’t train out mendacity.

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  1. Tweets that mention John Prescott, a waggish philanthropist or a chippy tub of lard? « Michael Taggart -- Topsy.com - August 22, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Helen & Maggie, Michael Taggart. Michael Taggart said: JUST BLOGGED: John Prescott, a waggish philanthropist or a chippy tub of lard?: http://t.co/xJHxqdl (cc: @johnprescott ) […]

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