by the stormy present
Thu Apr 1st, 2010 at 09:36:04 AM EST
From columnist Charlemagne at The Economist:
Spoon Feeding Lazy Journalists -- Open Europe: the Eurosceptic group that controls British coverage of the EU
Well, that got my attention.
WHAT explains the fierce hostility of the British press towards the European Union? It is a complicated question, and any answer must take account of things like the ferocity of the British press in general (a product of culture and competition between lots of national titles) and the real scepticism of the British political machine towards the EU, which trickles down into public discourse.
But I think people in Brussels ignore at their peril the impact of a small, but assiduous Eurosceptic campaign group, Open Europe.
Calling itself an independent think tank, which it is not, Open Europe does two exceedingly clever things to influence British press coverage of Europe. Its (admirably multi-national) team of young researchers reads the English-language, French, Dutch, Belgian, German and Nordic press every day, and translates and links to stories that show the EU in a bad light, in a daily press summary that has very wide circulation among political reporters. Secondly, they produce special reports that delve into the detail of EU legislation and the economics of the EU, and produce hack-friendly, pre-digested reports on how awful the EU is, which duly sail into the press.
I am sure that well over half the stories in the British daily press on the EU are directly inspired by Open Europe press releases and tip-offs. Many of those articles are one-sided, inaccurate and verging on the hysterical. But here is the thing, I do not really blame Open Europe. They are a political campaign outfit, and campaigning is what they do. I do not share their opinions on a lot of things, and I think they play fast and loose with complicated sets of data. But the real reason their work generates so much duff journalism is that Britain has such depressingly duff newspapers.
Open Europe feeds on three big facts about the average London based journalist. They are very, very lazy, so love being spoon-fed stories. They are pack animals: once the EU has become a target for vitriolic abuse in one paper, all the others follow, because it winds readers up into a nice frenzy and there is no danger of anyone from the EU suing them. The EU also alarms journalists in London at some level, because they do not understand it and it makes their brains hurt to try, so they yearn for someone to explain to them in simple terms why it is (as they suspect) a plot by foreigners to run Britain.
What Charlemagne does next is track a specific story, from its birth as a highly suspect Open Europe talking point to its reporting in several British newspapers (and the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal) -- two of which add caveats or context, but the rest of which just regurgitate the pre-digested Euroskeptic claptrap. It's interesting. Read the whole thing.
I think there are a few things going on here. Yes, Charlemagne is probably right about the laziness, which is hardly unique to the British press. But would they run this stuff unchallenged if it didn't fit in with the editors' worldviews or ideology? In other words, they've got a narrative and it fits the narrative, so it gets a pass. I doubt they'd run a similar talking point touting the EU's benefits for Britain.
So then the real question is, what do you do to counter something like this?