BBC’s Adam Curtis’ Fluck Up

Every once in a while there’s an opinion piece so grossly naive, horribly uninformed, or passively apologetic that it deserves pushback.

BBC’s Adam Curtis’ blog post, WHAT THE FLUCK [sic], is such a piece. Read it for yourself. I’m still scratching my head about this overlong, winding post that ultimately says,

“…Maybe today we are being farmed by the new system of power. But we can’t see quite how it is happening – and we need a new journalism to explain what is really going on. …”

No. We have the right journalism, even if it is not perfect or dispersed evenly, even if we could use more of it. The Guardian’s work on the Snowden story is just one example; if I may say so, Emptywheel sets another fine example as citizen journalism.

What we need is a public willing to invest time and energy in reading the material reported, discuss it openly after careful analysis, willing to demand and support more good journalism by way of subscription, donation, or advertising revenues as a last resort.

What we don’t need are naive or uninformed opinion leaders who tell us we don’t have journalism reporting about the size, scale, and nature of the corruption we face.

What we don’t need are apologias masquerading as demands for more and better journalism.

Curtis’ piece in particular does several things to muddy the public’s perception about journalism today:

• He throws us a narrative about poor little rich girl Tamara Yeardye Mellon and her father that is not unlike reading about poor little Paris Hilton, or poor little Kardashian Annoying-Sister-Of-The-Day. The narrative utterly misses a critical point, derailing its own effort, yet he feels the public need more backstory narrative in order to really understand today’s challenges..

• Rupert Murdoch is treated as if he was handed a bag of flaming dog poo by his editorial predecessor, dealing with the mess in the best manner he could — as if cellphone hacking by Murdoch’s employees was mere fallout inherited immaculately by Murdoch.

• Curtis ignores his own role, using his bully pulpit to complain about an absence of reporting he is capable of providing instead of this meandering whinge.

With regard to Tamara Mellon’s allegedly lost control over of her luxe shoe business Jimmy Choo Limited to Phoenix Private Equity, Curtis failed to note that not even a Mellon family member is safe from predation. Even a Mellon can be made into a corporate vulture’s bitch.

What does this tell us about the nature of the beast?

• The One Percent as we used to know them are no more; something more powerful is at work, eating the lunch of the past’s oligarchs. We know this, though; we still haven’t seen any frogmarched executives after the economic crisis of 2008.

• Whatever the beast is, it’s hidden from the reading public’s view, and folks like Curtis don’t follow up in spite of their resources. Why didn’t he ask who or what Phoenix Private Equity is?

• Why does Curtis blindly accept Tamara Mellon’s perspective? She’s an unreliable narrator as Matthew Mellon’s wife. He never appears to question the possibility that the couple were both set up, or were agents for GCHQ.

What does the Tamara Mellon story tell us about the real problem?

Curtis demonstrates the true barrier to understanding the truth: an inability to be sufficiently curious, a lack of critical thinking, or a tendency to sweep important details under the rug for reasons that are not clear. The thread is right there in front of him; he fails to grab it and follow it, asking instead for someone else to do it, in spite of the fact Curtis has a bloody blog hosted at the BBC’s website.

With regard to Rupert Murdoch, the pass Curtis offers the news magnate is ridiculous. Murdoch is characterized as having ethical limits demonstrated in his firing of News of the World senior editor Stafford Somerfield. Curtis credulously accepts Murdoch’s excuse:

“I sacked the best editor of the News of the World. He was too nasty even for me.”

Right; the same guy who made News of the World a profitable, expanding outlet is sacked a year after the paper’s acquisition for doing what made the newspaper successful. What would you do in Murdoch’s shoes to a cash cow who might usurp your internal power structure given said cash cow’s 25 years seniority in the business?

Murdoch is the same man who, as chair and CEO of News Corporation, owned over 800 companies located globally, constituting a news empire worth more than $5 billion as of 2000. This fortune was made by continuing the nasty tabloid approach Stafford Somerfield began at News of the World, spread now around the world.

This is the same Murdoch who built Fox News, which could not do enough panty-sniffing when it came to President Bill Clinton’s intern scandal in the 1990s. The same Fox News that set the agenda for the Bush-Cheney White House through daily talking points sent the president’s offices, utterly complicit with and not separate from the halls of political power.

And of course, the cellphone hacking scandal. That’s all on Murdoch and his organization, nearly 40 years after Somerfield was sacked.

What Curtis’ post reveals is not a lack of “new journalism” necessary to improve the public’s understanding.

Curtis’ threadbare grasp of journalistic ethics is instead disclosed. This cannot be fixed by building a new approach to reporting. It can only be fixed by pointing out the failure to apply an ethical standard uniformly to contemporary journalism as well as noting culpability in the lapse of understanding (ex. Why does Curtis let Murdoch off the hook, in spite of his blog’s perch at BBC?).

If there’s anything else missing it is Curtis’ self-empowerment to be the necessary change using the tools he has within his grasp. There’s only one person who can supply that.

9 replies
  1. Roman Berry says:

    You have completely misread what Curtis wrote. Completely. I encourage everyone to go read Adam Curtis’s blog entry in its entirety for themselves before allowing this diary to color their perception of what he wrote.

    As far as Curtis being the self-empowerment about which he wrote, are you not familiar with the body of Curtis’s work? “The Power of Nightmares” is about the selling of the war on terror via hyped-up to the point of fiction bogeymen. “The Trap – What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom” is a three hour look at the “brilliant” thinking that led to the models of “freedom” that our governments use to this day to turn us one against the other, suspicious always, as though human existence could be reduced to John Nash’s game theory.

    I could go on at length, but the bottom line for me is that you read a lengthy essay and highlighted everything but what was important. You seem to take personal affront, largely (I think) because in mis-reading and concentrating on the irrelevant, you missed the entire point.

  2. agh says:

    I went and read the Curtis article and agree with Roman. It is excellent and thought provoking. The usually excellent Rayne must have got out of the wrong side of bed today or something to have so completely misread it. Rayne, please try again. I think you owe it to Curtis.

  3. Rayne says:

    @Roman Berry: We’ll have to agree to disagree. I’m familiar with Curtis’ work including The Power of Nightmares, though I personally prefer Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine with regard to describing the conditioning by which 3+ generations have been conditioned to accept certain “truths.”

    What Curtis can no longer grasp with his models is both a generational shift and the size and scale of the monster we face today. I see this as a form of cognitive dissonance, in part based in the conditioning we’ve all been subjected to over decades — hell, the entirety of most of my life.

    The GWOT isn’t just a means for the MIC to profit by way of FUD-ing us into support. The roots of the *existing* GWOT is exponentially bigger; it controls the MIC on a global basis for its own aims.

    Stafford Somerfield is long dead. Rupert Murdoch and his kin are still very much alive, however, still in a position to carry water for the powers that own the MIC. Cripes, Murdoch owns the Wall Street Journal now, the paper that the leaders of the MIC rely on for news. Yet Curtis gives Murdoch a pass, concentrating instead on Somerfield in his essay. Somerfield could only envy Murdoch’s ballsy global spread and his utter lack of ethics in hacking private cellphones, as well as his ability to manipulate elected officials to cover News Corps’ backside.

    We need to get well past very old, very dead news; we cannot remain stuck in history where information was bound in physical print and encapsulated in time.

    As long as we drive right by the current gatekeepers of information — the useful tools of the deep state who themselves struggle with this generational shift a la News Corp-MySpace — we remain mired in the last generation’s nightmares and cannot face the beast.

    The beast that Curtis cannot apparently grok is one that already has a pretty good bead on what you’re going to do over the next 24-48 hours (possibly as long as year, and possibly who you’ll interact with during the forecast window of time) based on metadata alone you’ve released to them.

    Imagine what a beast with that power can do at global scale; it won’t need a nightmare or a shock to manufacture consensus.

    @agh: I read Curtis’ piece several times; each time I come away thinking I’d have pushed back at it to demand a more coherent piece because it does not further his own agenda of increasing understanding. I don’t owe Curtis jack, I’ve already given him more than 95% of his readers have. He owes it to the public to use his bully pulpit more effectively.

    Talk about a lost opportunity; imagine what a site like Emptywheel could do with a BBC blog.

    Lastly, I find your comment marginalizing. You can simply say you don’t agree with me instead of adding speculation about my mood. I seriously doubt you add such qualification if you disagreed with bmaz or Jim White.

  4. me says:

    So the problem is not the quality of the essay, it’s more that he thinks less of competence of the establishment than you do. As a natural paranoid, I find “do not attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence” a useful maxim.

  5. bloodypitchfork says:

    @Rayne: Madam Rayne, I read Mr. Curtis’s piece in it’s entirety and while I can understand your point of view, I found it historically informative and actually connected dots I didn’t know existed. However, as to the issue at we need a “new” journalism paradigm? As far as I’m concerned, yes, at least in this country. Here is living proof why:

    If this article doesn’t express the idea that the MSM journalism in this country is TOTALLY controlled, I don’t know what can. Even though I’ve held this view for decades, to me, it provides the very evidence to support Mr. Curtis’s as well as my view that we do indeed need a new “journalism”, as the one we have is full of shit, at least at the MSM level. That doesn’t mean I think that internet spread “news” isn’t up to snuff. On the contrary, I believe the release of Snowdens revelations via the Greenwald Guardian connection would not have impacted this country had there been NO internet. Unfortunately, at least at this point, I believe the PTB in this country were and are, not afraid of the impact of the revelations to the point they thought it might cause a revolt. Although, insofar as Greenwald has suggested Mr. Snowden retains a “doomsday” file which indeed may cause a massive shift in citizen cognizance of the governments usurpation of the Constitution, it may come to pass the PTB, in order to pre-empt a possible mass insurrection, would actually shut down the internet in this country, notwithstanding introducing Martial Law should Greenwald release the alleged file. The very proof of my assertion is the fact that Feinstien/Rogers actually tried to introduce legislation to codify existing NSA practices masquerading as reform.

    In fact, what this article suggests is..the story of mass insurrection whereby a democratic government is totally forced to resign by it’s people, is fundamentally so dangerous to the ruling class, they did everything in their power to keep it out of the MSM in this country. After all..notwithstanding Pots and Pans..there are over 300 MILLION guns possessed by citizens in THIS country and the PTB know it.

    In that regard, I am of the opinion that indeed, this country needs a MSM paradigm shift of biblical proportions as should the need arise, the government would simply shut down all alternative sources of “journalism” available to citizens. Hence the USG’s search for a way to implement an internet “kill switch” as well as control of telecommunications via smartphone technology, much like China. And this is exactly what Senator Church warned us about, albeit the digital communications technology at the time of his warning was in it’s infancy, and was in regards to surveillance, the result is the same.

    At the time of the event in Iceland, I remember seeing ONE report on the internet, and remember thinking at the time..”WTF? Nothing on MSM? I smell a rat.” As the article articulates… the stench is reaching far and wide now. And MSM. Zilch. Nada. whudda thunk.

    We now return you to your previously scheduled discussion ..with your permission of course, sir. :)

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Thanks for taking this on. You’re right. We need journalism, not “new” journalism. That includes providing adequate framing and context, which often gets spiked because it annoys the powerful. For example, Sen. Backhander said X today; he claimed the opposite yesterday, offering no explanation for his change of position.

    Competent journalists already know what to do. They need to do it. As importantly, editors and publishers need to print and broadcast it, not spike it, which they often do to please the powerful and retain their neighborly, “insider” status.

    If the BBC wants to tell readers and listeners that they are ignorant because the BBC isn’t doing its job, because it is spiking news or editing it owing to government or business pressure, then fine. That would be a good story. That isn’t what Mr. Curtis is doing.

  7. agh says:

    “Lastly, I find your comment marginalizing. You can simply say you don’t agree with me instead of adding speculation about my mood. I seriously doubt you add such qualification if you disagreed with bmaz or Jim White.”

    Sorry Rayne, truthfully I didn’t know your gender until reading this reply and then seeing you referred to as “madame” in the next comment. I haven’t been reading you long enough to pick up on that.
    If I had known, that would indeed be rude. As it is, I apologize for lacking the awareness I should have had.

    I have to say I found/find your OP overly harsh and expecting way too much from Curtis and his BBC platform. Considering his potential audience and the limits he presumably works under, I thought it was a fairly powerful piece of consciousness raising and was surprised at the vehemence of your reaction.
    Knowing now that you read and analyzed the article several times before writing, I shall go back and do the same myself.
    Mine was a knee-jerk reaction to something I assumed from the tone was a knee-jerk reaction (a tone, to me so unlike the admirably reasoned essays of yours I had been reading, that I sought for a reason. Evidently all my assumptions were false.)
    So, thank you for making me think, as always.

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