Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Coulter 1-0 Paxman

Forget England v. Sweden, tonight's real battle for supremacy was between Jeremy Paxman and Ann Coulter, on Newsnight. And I'm very sorry to say that for all intents and purposes, Coulter won. But like some of England's recent World Cup matches, it wasn't an impressive victory at all, and that's what made it so frustrating to watch. I've read about this woman's legendary stand-offishness before, but given that she really only came to media prominence around the same time I left North America, tonight was the first opportunity I've had to actually hear her speak. And what did she say? Basically almost nothing, apart from (a) confirming that yes, she really believed and stood by all that she's ever written, (b) denying that any non-liberals disagreed with anything she had to say, and (c) essentially saying that her ideas on the state of religion in the US are better than more detailed analyses because her new book is "the number one best-seller in America", and everyone else's, well, isn't.

Which all sounds like so much teenage hot air to me, and it would almost be funny if the woman wasn't well into her forties.

Paxman - who I presume was interviewing her for the first time - was visibly equally taken aback by her bluster and her seeming inability or unwillingness to actually discuss in depth any of the reactionary right-wing values she espouses (not linking to her official site, but a quick Google search will do it). Ann Coulter is the sort of pundit who requires Newsnight's heavy artillery to be brought out, but I personally feel that Paxman missed a real opportunity tonight. While he obviously decided that the best policy was to let Coulter's madness speak for itself and have done with it, I would argue that this really isn't the most proactive or helpful approach. Ann Coulter is one of the most popular conservative commentators in the United States, and she has some of the most extreme and often deeply offensive views on issues ranging from religion to immigration to war. As such, she's not some David Icke 12-foot lizard cartoon character who can be laughed at and brushed aside. What's needed is a good old-fashioned debate with some of the most scarily intelligent liberal polemicists of this country to tear through her hateful nonsense piece by piece and expose it for what it really is.

But once again, that didn't happen, and Coulter has walked away looking like the cat who got the cream.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Top British journalists in Oxbridge shock!

This new study by the Sutton Trust makes for interesting if exasperating reading for those of us trying to make it in the world of journalism. It should really come as no surprise that over half of Britain's "top 100" journalists were educated in private schools, with a hefty proportion having specifically graduated from Oxford or Cambridge.

According to The Guardian, the study "concluded that this tended to be because [these people] were more likely to be able to survive the low pay and high job insecurity endemic at junior levels and were more likely to have personal or family connections within the industry." Also, "because it could be difficult to judge journalists on their CVs alone, he said, editors were likely to appoint applicants they knew and the contacts of those who went to private school often helped them."

This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that NOT ONE of the top 100 went to my alma mater in this country, City University, which supposedly boasts one of the most reputable Journalism programmes in the land. And am I right in thinking that neither Oxford nor Cambridge actually has a journalism faculty/school? Are we plebs just busting our asses for nothing because we couldn't afford to go to a school that doesn't even teach us the right subject?! What about journalists who didn't go to university in this country at all, but elsewhere?

I suppose the main thing to remember is that this is a very subjective list of achievers in terms of media success. The Sutton Trust relies on fairly nebulous criteria for choosing its list, based on which journalists are supposedly the most influential. Some of these choices are obvious ones - Rebekah Wade, for instance, or Jeremy Paxman. Others are conspicuous by their absence. The list is also heavily geared towards the nationals, meaning it is London-centric, with prominent regional journos in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow etc nowhere in sight. Who's to say that they're majority Oxbridge-educated? Something tells me that most of them aren't - but then because their readers are conglomerated in one area rather than around the country, their influence is presumably perceived to be less.

It still sucks, though. And goes a long way toward explaining these wonderful eight-month traineeship programmes for recent graduates, unpaid but with reporting experience guaranteed in virtually every section of a prestigious national paper, and a good chance of being hired there afterward. Who can really afford to work unpaid for eight months in a city like London? Yeah, you guessed it.

Hat tip: DSTFW

Monday, June 12, 2006

"A good PR move"

Hands up who else thinks that this weekend's suicides at Guantanamo Bay were simply a publicity stunt for jihad. Go on. Hands up those of you who really believe that four years of imprisonment in a dusty, arrid cage with no specific charges, no promise of a trial and no contact with family genuinely had nothing to do with it.

"A good PR move to draw attention [and] a tactic to further the jihadi cause."
-Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy

"I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of warfare waged against us."
-Rear Admiral Harry Harris, Camp Commander at Guantanamo Bay

Regardless of my support for and recognition of the need to end terrorism, and my genuine admiration of the overwhelming majority of American values, I have always believed that Guantanamo is a scourge on the current US administration, and this shockingly insulting and insensitive statement from the man essentially left in charge of the camp does not do anything to alter my opinion. Of course the easy option is to say that radical Islamists use suicide attacks as a means of tactical warfare, of course it is easy to say they are only aiming for martyrdom.

The fact remains that many detainees have been released after nothing has been found with which to justify their continued imprisonment. This is not to suggest that all of them are innocent. But how can it be said they these suicides were only aiming for publicity before we can say with any certainty that the ones who lie dead are indeed terrorists? It goes without saying that all of them have been denied their basic judicial and human rights, and that, faced with a continuation of this "life" for the foreseeable future, we should not be at all surprised when more suicides occur. What do they have to live for if they are not even granted the prospect of a hearing? Guantanamo Bay is a disgrace, and sadly it does nothing to help the West's struggle to maintain freedom and democracy.

George Bush says that he would like to see the camp closed down, and its inmates tried in U.S. courts. The sooner the better.

Friday, June 09, 2006

This World Cup, I will mostly be supporting...

... Paraguay.

Not because of any particular affinity to the tiny South American country, but simply because I have just drawn it out of a hat for the office World Cup sweepstakes.

And I love office sweepstakes. :)

Still though, this leaves me in a bit of a bind, because I was planning to do a top 10 random facts thingy on whoever I picked. Instead, it seems the Grauniad has pipped me to the post and doubled any effort I was willing to make by printing 20 Things You Didn't Know About Paraguay a couple of days ago. Boooo.

However, here's one disappointing fact that the Guardian didn't think to mention. Catherine Bennett, are you listening?

There are NO fit blokes on the Paraguay team. Not one. One of them's even sporting a nasty eye infection in his official World Cup pic. Ewww.

* * *

UPDATE: Well that didn't last long. Can't say I'm surprised, though. I will now be supporting Iran, due to family reasons. The old Islamic Republic has an even less likely chance of making it through to the final rounds, but after seeing the lovely movie Offside yesterday at the Soho Curzon, I can't really support anyone else.

Friday, June 02, 2006


Dontcha just love 'em?!?!??

Not if you're Catherine Bennett, it would seem. Okay, that's probably not strictly true, but she does seem to have a few unresolved issues about the more boorish members of the species, which she attempts to air in her latest piece for the Guardian's Comment is Free. Now, I don't want to spend too much time on this, as there are more important things to talk about. A ton has already been said about this, most of it visible in the comments directly below her article, and more still over at Harry's Place, seemingly the focal point of Bennett's rant.


  • She starts off by comparing the attendees of the Euston Manifesto launch to an all-male group of bird-watchers, even though she admits there were actually quite a few women present.

  • She also uses the EM launch as a starting point for her critique without even having been present at the event.

  • Where in this piece is there a reference to the antidote to male-run political blogs? There are dozens of female political bloggers across the UK, who have intelligent, cutting, witty comments to make about anything and everything, and Bennett fails to refer to their (our!) existence even in passing.

  • How on earth does posting about bike frames or run-ins with celebrities qualify as male-dominated? Downright bizarre choice of examples to highlight her point.

  • She completely misunderstands a harmless joke by Graham from Harry's Place and turns it into some kind of subliminal attack on older women, which it just isn't.

  • "Even the most respectable blogs, operated by professional, award-winning progressives, like to show commitment to this mission with devil-may-care asides about porn, notes on the ugliness of women commentators, the beauty of young waitresses, or remarks - as on Guido Fawkes - on the "totty situation"." This may be so, but as another Comment is Free contributor, Padraig Reidy, points out, blogs are not newspapers. These are personal websites and people can post whatever the hell they like! Furthermore, on Harry's Place, seemingly the largest target of her piece, comments like these actually tend to be pretty rare, and can hardly be said to characterise the blog as a whole. And does she really think that women bloggers never take the piss or make comments about people's looks? Oh wait, I forgot, there are no women bloggers in the gospel according to Catherine.

  • Fuck it, Helena Christensen is gorgeous and deserves to be shown off.

Right, so there you have it in a nutshell. And I tell you what, it gives me no great pleasure to post these thoughts, because at the end of the day I am slagging off a fellow female-journalist, which is the absolute last thing I want to do. Even worse, it seems that the last few people to post ill-thought-out, poor-quality comment articles in the Guardian have ALL been women.

Embarrassing? I think so. That's not to say that any of these women are untalented, unintelligent or doing the wrong job. Not a bit of it. What I worry about is the Guardian's worrying march toward ever-greater levels of comment, as opposed to plain old news journalism. Don't get me wrong, I think Comment is Free is a brilliantly forward-thinking idea, and the fact that it takes so long for contributors' articles to go up is symptomatic of how editorial supply has not yet caught up with the massive reader demand. And yet, someone on Farringdon Road has obviously decided that blogging is the future, and for the paper to continue to attract new readers and develop a solid voice, it needs its journalists to comment on absolutely everything, from Croquetgate to the McCartneys' divorce.

It is surely easier for readers to be critical of a comment piece than of a news article. Now, I may be reading too much into this, but it seems that several of the Guardian's female journalists appear to have been singled out for writing regular reams of comment, on topics that are not always likely to have been of their own choosing. The resulting hurried, sub-standard articles produced seem to reflect this. And whose journalistic integrity takes the rap? You guessed it.

So yes, political bloggers of the male variety like to post meaty arguments and big up their anorak skillz by demonstrating their knowledge of the minutiae of the Russian Revolution and the Yom Kippur war, interspersed with the occasional off-colour joke. But so what, they were probably rubbish on the sports pitch at school and need to let their competitive spirit out somewhere. Female political bloggers, meanwhile, tend to reserve their posting for issues on which they feel genuinely passionate about, resulting in thought-provoking articles that trigger long-running and often aggressive debates. But like the men, we also like to post the occasional fluff piece about celebrities or rudely-shaped vegetables or songs that saved our lives. Witness Hak Mao, JoBlog, It Comes In Pints, et al. The point is, well-intentioned blogs published in someone's basement or dashed off during someone's lunch break and read by a few hundred people at most are really not what we should be worrying about when it comes to sexism in the media.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered '80s

(Ten points if you can spot the lyric reference.)

Went down to the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre last night to see Douglas Coupland give a reading (oooh) from his latest book, J-Pod. Having only read two of his books until now (Generation X and Girlfriend in a Coma), I've never considered myself to be an aficionado, unlike some of the trendy-jacket brigade that were in attendance yesterday. But two things struck me last night, both of which have now made me want to go read more of his work.

  1. I think the reason Coupland first made a name for himself is because he wrote about the insignificant and the ordinary events that make up the lives of most middle-class North Americans. Generation X was really written for kids who grew up saying things like "psych!" and "I know you are, but what am I?", and thought they were the epitome of irony and hip. It was also probably the US literary answer to the Smiths, bemoaning authority and greed and yuppies and everything else that was evil about the '80s. It was awkward and self-conscious while still maintaining a sense of humour about it; a trait portrayed in the flesh by Coupland himself last night, openly chastising himself for going off on tangents during the Q&A session: "Nice one Doug, she didn't even ask that question." It just made me realise that a lot of today's "trendy" literature is very slick and polished, and tends to skip over a lot of the neuroses that characterise Coupland's novels, making them seem very, well, '90s. However, with the threat of nuclear bombs hovering over us once more, religious fundamentalists of all stripes trying to claw us back into the dark ages, and more people voting in Big Brother than in actual general elections, I'd say there's still a fair bit to be neurotic about in 2006, wouldn't you? This is one of the people that is writing down our everyday culture, or the lack of it, as it happens, and for that, I intend to read more of him.

  2. There's Canadian, and then there's Douglas Coupland. That accent! I could listen to it all day... "What the fuck err you talkin' aboot?" As we took our seats in the auditorium prior to the event, I turned to the friend I was there with and said, "Like all successful Canadians, he's probably lived in the US for the past 30 years." Where Coupland calls home is none of my business, but I can now safely assume that with an accent like that, it's highly likely to be somewhere in Canada. Bless!