The Guardian: Right sermon, wrong preacher. There is an easy response to Tony Blair’s lecture on the failings of the media, and some will seize on it. It is to accuse the prime minister – the master (some will say) of half truths, evasion and spin – of breathtaking hypocrisy and an almost clinical lack of self-awareness. Well, yes. But Mr Blair’s heartfelt homily deserves a more serious response. His words will have struck a sympathetic chord, not simply among people in public life, frustrated at the way their words and deeds are mediated, but among a broad section of readers and viewers as well. Much of what he said was true, and it took some courage to say it, a courage that was doubtless easier to draw on amid the last embers of a political career.
As it happens, I stopped by the Guardian yesterday while its editor, Alan Rusbridger, was working on this editorial (British papers call editorials “leaders.”). More than most responses to Tony Blair’s sharp-edged speech yesterday, it reflects the reality that the prime minister made some good points amid his brazen hypocrisy.
The Blair speech comes on the heels of a gigantic scandal involving his government. As the Guardian and BBC have led the way in reporting (Guardian, BBC coverage), BAE, the British aerospace giant that makes fighter planes, has made huge payments to a Saudi prince — apparently with government approval if not overt complicity. If this journalism is not an example of the finest traditions of the craft, nothing is, and it’s plainly a disaster for Blair and his cronies.
I’d disagree with the Guardian on one point, though — the newspaper’s rather mild response to Blair’s chilling, if carefully worded, pitch for more government control of journalism. Media control is an authoritarian’s favored tool. The police-state tendencies of governments worldwide, which are especially worrisome here in the nation that gave birth to the Magna Carta, don’t need any further assistance.