I have been at this scribbling game, in a more or less professional way, since 1945, and since the year in which I first took an interest in a general election, 1949, my political views have not changed very significantly. Leaving aside all references to which country I lived in at which time, I started out as a convinced supporter of the Labour party (that until 1949 had formed a solid, successful government), and right up until the British election last month --- the first election I can remember in which the boasts of its politicians that it was to be one of the most important in the history of the country appear to be justified by the results---- my preferences have remained the same --- always a Labour party guy, a socialist by conviction, a dissenter by inclination and intuition, and an almost sure loser in every election I have voted in or closely observed.
My conclusion from this dismal catalogue of failures has not been what one might have expected, that is, to change my preference (or to put it in different words, to have learned from my negative experiences). Not at all: my conclusion is that the road to a society of equals, in which every person, whatever his or her talent, wealth, intellect or background, will have an equal opportunity to make his or her best path through life, will be a long and unnecessarily tortuous path indeed. Though in these late years of a long life I am no longer animated by much faith in anything, I still have a residual faith that this aim of the egalitarian society will be achieved sometime in the future.
Like most people as they struggle through life, I suppose I am always looking out for validation of my views or opinions, and yesterday I had an occasion on which I veritably felt an impulse to cheer loudly as such a validation was ringingly broadcast during a discussion on the Russian TV news service RT. Of course, this validation was not directed at me personally, I was just taking credit for having, for most of my life agreed with the opinions being expressed.
The people expressing these opinions were Chris Hedges, and Matt Taibbi, who could justifiably be named as among the leading dissenters from the neo-liberal, globalizing viewpoint that appears to be the overwhelmingly accepted narrative of social, economic and cultural leaders of American opinion in these parlous days.
What they were describing was really just the story of their own experience as members of the commemtariat. Hedges spent 15 years working as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, having reportedly covered politics from 50 countries, and Taibbi came to national attention for his articles in Rolling Stone some years ago. Hedges is the son of a Presbyterian minister, and briefly became one himself before embarking on journalism. He still has a strong Christian background, but describes himself as a Christian anarchist. Both agreed in the interview I heard yesterday that in their experience, they were not expected to hold any real views that might distinguish them from their peers, but were rather expecfed to tailor their viewpoints to match those agreed upon by their colleagues. “I used to wonder,” said Hedges, referring to his colleagues, “why they were so mediocre,”.and Taibbi agreed with him: “It is because they are specially chosen, that is why they are in the job.”
I have written and said, in almost exactly the same words and over many years, just what they were saying last weekend. A journalist may delude himself into believing he is free to express himself as he feels fit, but should any of his opinions cross that bar over which it is generally understood no one may step, then he or she can expect to be quickly but quietly gotten rid of, one way or another. Taibbi (who led a very colourful life before getting into journalism, much of it spent in Russia, where he played professional sports for some years), agreed with Hedges that”they” (meaning media employers) seldom resort to direct censorship, but find more indirect ways of getting rid of embarrassing employees. Hedges in fact described the boss’s reasoning as “a commerocial decision:” a publication written in an inoffensive, anodyne style attracts a bigger audience, and that is why so many journals present their information in such a flat and unexciting way.
I hadn’t heard that explanation before, but I have recorded elsewhere how in my own case just walking into the editorial shop became such a trial for me that I would break out into a sweat every time I checked in. My wife suggested I should quit, which I did. In fact, over a quarter of a century of daily journalism, I tended to quit every job after three years because I knew I could never build what is usually described as a career, in journalism,; which turned out to be the case.