George Osborne began his editorship by livening up the Evening Standard a lot, giving it political oomph. But there is a lot more to newspapers than politics and free newspapers are facing what threatens to turn into an existential crisis, because advertisers know that it is difficult to get commuters to pick up such papers when reading on mobile devices is now where it’s at. Take a look along the train carriage the next time you leave a London station at rush hour. Smart phones dominate.
Anyway, one of the stranger features of Osborne’s editorship of the Standard, and his comments since he was fired (in a disrespectful and foolish manner) by Theresa May, is the violence of the language he deploys against the person who ended his political career.
He has pronounced her a “dead woman walking” and used other violent metaphors. Ed Caesar’s gripping profile of Osborne for Esquire published this week contained the stop the reader in his/her tracks quote of the month. Osborne would not rest until May is “chopped up in bags in my freezer.”
Good grief. This is getting creepy, Silence of the Lambs creepy.
Now, Lib Dem leader Vince Cable is at it too. Her position on Brexit is as follows, he claims: “It’s a bit like being handcuffed to a radiator in the basement of a flat in Beirut and she is at the mercy of other people.”
Why are these men being quite so unpleasant towards May? Why are they talking about chopping someone up or chaining them to radiators? Is it just women politicians who get talked about this way?
Plus, if they’re not careful they’ll start making people feel sorry for May who, for all her flaws, conducts herself with quiet dignity.
On the Osborne editorship, in a superb column in the Guardian today, Gaby Hinsliff gets to the heart of Osborne’s tenure.
“The most revealing passage of Esquire’s interview in some ways wasn’t about May, but about the Grenfell tragedy which the former chancellor evidently feels was not about cost-cutting so much as “a massive failure of fire standards over many, many years”. It may be, of course, that the public inquiry proves him right. But there is something deeply awkward nonetheless about the man so recently in charge of the nation’s public spending having the last editorial word on this. Imagine, too, if all the energy expended on May were channelled into in-depth investigations of, say, how London’s broader housing market was allowed to spiral so wildly out of control, or how the city will function when essential workers can’t afford to live there, or even how a Brexit referendum that will profoundly affect the City ever came to be held and lost. The ex-chancellor surely has some unique insights but strangely enough, the inside information we’re getting tends to be the stuff that makes everyone else look bad.”
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In politics Osborne was the self-taught master of getting a brutally simple line, crafting a rhetorical device or attack line, and using it over and over again until the propaganda registered in the mind of the public. Is this what he thinks he’s doing here pursuing a monomaniacal obsession with getting the woman who fired him defenestrated? Keep doing the same thing/story every day until everyone gets it?
Journalism isn’t like that. Yes campaigns and consistent themes matter. But ultimately, beyond reporting and analysing what goes on in the world, journalism is about “ringing the changes” (as my first editor wisely used to say). That means keeping it interesting and varied, grabbing readers, moving them through the paper or website, making them stop to pay attention to what matters or amuses them, and maintaining their interest with a wide range of content that satisfies curiosity and the need for entertainment. An Evening Standard editor relentlessly trying to get the woman who got the job he wanted fired is quite interesting, for perhaps five minutes, but then pretty soon people yawn and turn to their phone to see what’s going on. Which may explain the need for all the violent imagery. Perhaps it is a slightly desperate attempt to keep readers interested in a story losing its currency.