ALREADY there are people explaining that the Labour catastrophe
was due to the hostility of the right-wing press. It's an
interesting argument that goes to the heart of how it is that
For a start, there's no doubt that the overwhelming majority of
the national press was hostile to Ed Miliband, sometimes
breath-takingly so. Google suggests that the Daily Mail
alone has published more than 4000 stories containing the phrase
"Red Ed", which might have planted some seeds of an idea in
quicker-witted readers. Even behind its paywall, The Sun
offers a further 190 news stories containing the phrase.
While this kind of thing is worth it to the proprietors of
newspapers - because it shows their favoured party leaders that
they are doing their bit for victory, and so deserve favours after
it has been attained - there is not much evidence that it actually
Roy Greenslade, writing in The Guardian, came up with a
convoluted conspiracy theory to explain how the right-wing press
had defeated Labour. It wasn't their support of the Conservatives,
but their taking UKIP seriously.
"UKIP do so well . . . because, in the five years leading up to
the election, the right-wing press lent it, and its policies,
"In an effort to ensure that David Cameron's Conservative party
followed a largely anti-EU agenda, newspapers gave
disproportionately favourable coverage to Farage and his party.
"They certainly poked fun at some of his supporters and, at
various points, questioned UKIP's credibility. Yet they treated the
party's policies, including its anti-immigrant stance, with undue
This would be more convincing if there were not such
overwhelming evidence that the anti-immigrant stance was
overwhelmingly popular. In fact, it is hard to distinguish UKIP's
policies here from those of any of the other parties. It was not
UKIP that carved "Controls on Immigration" into stone, but Miliband
- the tombstone that will stand over his leadership and not
Which brings us to the central problem with newspapers as organs
of propaganda. Of course they can mislead, and even lie outright.
But newspapers can, on the whole, only tell people the lies they
already want to believe. They generally get their effects not from
the insertion of what they claim to be true, but from the rigorous
exclusion of everything that does not fit into the desired
When the Mail recently ran a story on the abolition of
the "hated Human Rights Act", four of the six criminals whose faces
illustrated it were black or brown. "Human" rights, ran the
unspoken message, are foreigners' rights. The lie came not from the
pictures that were used, but from all the pictures that were
A LOVELY example of the way the propaganda doesn't actually work
surfaced in Damian Thompson's Spectator blog. A former
Romanian spy, Ion Mihai Pacepa, has announced that liberation
theology was actually something entirely cooked up by the KGB from
beginning to end.
Not even Thompson can quite bring himself to believe that the
story is actually true. "Pacepa's not into nuance, and he
exaggerates. I don't believe that the KGB 'created' a movement as
complex as liberation theology, and I'm far from convinced that its
name was dreamt up in the Lubyanka."
He even allows that some liberation-theology priests "worked
heroically among the poor".
But the whole thing is too much fun for him to abandon entirely.
His conclusion is a masterpiece of weaselling: "Pacepa's interview
deserves impartial critical scrutiny. But I can't see that
happening, because it raises questions that are terribly
embarrassing for Catholic liberals."
Impartial scrutiny, even when it is as partial as Thompson's,
takes about 15 seconds to realise that Pacepa's factual claims are
nonsense. The KGB did not invent liberation theology. That is the
sort of propaganda that only deranged American conspiracists and
KGB bosses could fall for, since they are the only people who want,
for their different reasons, to suppose that the KGB was a
superhumanly powerful organisation. It is not Catholic liberals who
are embarrassed by this drivel, but the kind of progressives who
believe in the power of human reason.
I DON'T want to suggest that it is only the Right that can
persuade itself of anything. The final text for this week's sermon
comes from George Galloway, the former MP for Bradford West, who
lost his seat to Naz Shah, a Muslim woman who had campaigned for a
boycott of Israeli firms during the Gaza War. Galloway, none the
less, blamed his defeat on "the venal, and the vile, the racists
and the Zionists". He still has followers.
I'm afraid that people who believe the "Zionists" run the world
are a greater threat than those who suppose the KGB still does.