18 November 2011

The Guardian and Me: The End of the Affair

The heading is not meant as a reference to the Graham Greene novel, just a useful, jokey title. Anyway, Snoopy urged me to write this, so here goes!

Back in 2006, on the last day of a great holiday in Canada, I read an article in a Canadian paper. It was an article by Timothy Garton Ash, writer and commentator, entitled "The Place of Europe in the Rise of antisemitism in the 20th Century ." The article was interesting, but that's not what this is all about. Arriving back home, I found out, via the Engage online website, that The Guardian (which also printed the original article) had illustrated the letters responding to Garton Ash with a "pocket cartoon" size map of western Europe overlaid with a Star of David.

Not surprisingly, I tackled the paper about this, and before long found myself in an email exchange with the Letters Editor. Their starting position was that the letters weren't just about the actual subject matter of the original article, but widened the area to include "Europe's role in the rise of Zionism…" Given The Guardian's take on the middle east, I supposed I shouldn't have been surprised that (a) the readers wrote letters off the topic but on their favourite subject, and (b) the Letters Editor would print them. Despite this, I soldiered on, arguing that their use of the Magen David echoed the New Statesman's "A Kosher Conspiracy?" cover (a Magen David piercing a Union Flag - bet they wouldn't have dared shown a red crescent moon piercing the same flag, heading it "An Islamist Conspiracy?") and The Independent's Stars and Stripes, with the stars replaced with 50 Magen Davids, which was how I'd perceived the illustration in the first place: as, frankly, an allusion to the "Lobby". To my lack of astonishment (although I was hopeful for a different response), this line or reasoning wasn't accepted.

The focus switched to the Readers' Editor, one (at the time) Ian Mayes. Unsurprisingly, he, too, failed to take my arguments on board. He even argued that the paper's intent was benign and carried an innocent meaning, so that was alright. Then I brought out what I expected to be my heaviest weapon: logic and intellectual argument. I should have known better. I argued that, as a sociologist, I knew very well that the meaning people attached to the symbols that they used, the words that they used and the evidence they deployed in an (intellectual) argument could well have other meanings than those they intended; I suggested, quite strongly, that this was the case here, with the Magen David on the map of western Europe. I, of course, reiterated that my initial reaction had been as stated before: it was a coded reference to "The Lobby". His response was that (implicitly allowing that mine was a possible, if in his view an unlikely, one) as they (the paper) hadn't meant it like that, so that was alright.

It was at this point, after something like a month or more, I emailed back to say that we had just become ex-Guardian readers. Ian Mayes response was to regret our leaving them. I couldn't resist the obvious counter, to which he failed to reply, that far from it, The Guardian had left me. It was no longer the genuinely liberal paper I had first started reading 40 years earlier. You know something? I don't miss it one little bit, and every time I log onto CiF watch, I know why I don't miss it.

By Brian Goldfarb.


Dick Stanley said...

Sounds like my canceling o subscription to the NYTimes when I finally figured out they were neither genuinely liberal nor objective in any way.