Toxic News

I didn’t blog yesterday and don’t entirely feel like doing it today. I guess putting the old What & The Why website into legacy mode by transferring it over to Google’s free Blogger service feels a little like the end of an era. Plus tomorrow is the last day I can hear from Private Eye if they want any of my last batch of cartoons. I feel like that’s another promising road that ends with a brick wall. I feel like Sean Connery in Goldfinger, racing towards my own set of headlights…

I don’t recall if I actually posted about Nick Newman’s articles over at the Professional Cartoonists Organisation so forgive me if I repeat myself. I was reading them last week and quite depressing they were. He was talking about the diminishing market for gag cartoons but also the problem that magazines now face with fewer new cartoonists coming through the ranks. This is what utterly baffles me. I’ve been trying to come through the ranks for ten years and never had a jot of luck with the Eye, whose pages are mostly filled with same familiar names. Makes me want to scream: of course nobody is coming through the ranks if nobody gives new names a chance…

I really need to find a new project. The last few days, I’ve been trying to follow John Cleese’s advice about not forcing things. Problem with not forcing things is nothing gets forced. Or maybe I just don’t have any good ideas lately.

Part of not forcing things involves my doing more reading. I spent all day yesterday with my nose pressed against a book. I’m currently finishing The Cartel but it’s a pretty long read and I needed a break from all the carnage. I decided to read Brian Stelter’s new book, Hoax, which is about the influence of Fox News on contemporary US politics. I’d have probably been better served sticking with the Mexican drug scene. It might have been less depressing.

That’s not to say it’s not an excellent book. It really is, telling a story that I probably thought I knew. Fox News made “opinion” big business but the degree to which they did that at the expense of proper journalism was something I hadn’t probably considered. Nor has I realised how much of a sham it all it; a business operation feeding a gullible public with the kind of opinion (we really mustn’t call it news) that they’ve been made hungry for. The epitome of that is Tucker Carlson, bemoaning the lot of the ordinary working American yet living on his own private island, effectively surrounded by a moat. Hannity is the same: working from his luxury estate in the backwoods of billionaire’s row.

As much as I knew a lot of the story, I really didn’t know most of it. The relationship between Trump and Fox is toxic for American democracy and Stelter does nothing to dispel the notion that Rupert Murdoch has been one of the most significantly bad influences on the Western world. Brilliant businessman, you might argue, but whose pretence about being an old-fashioned newsman in entirely overshadowed by the monumentally bad influence he’s had in politics.

What’s evidently clear, too, is how much the Trump presidency has embraced the sexualised characteristic of his favourite channel; predatory old rich guys surrounded by women expected to have a “tits up, hair back” approach to business.

I’ve not finished the book but my opinions of some key players has changed quite radically. James Murdoch is coming out of the book extremely well, as is (much to my surprise) Meghan Kelly. Shephard Smith I also rated as one of the saner voices at Fox but here he feels like he’s the last person standing before the tide of white supremacist bullshit came crashing down. Even though he was rocked by scandals of his own, Bill O’Reilly is far from the worst figure here. Ditto Roger Ailes, who at least set a limit beyond which his staff didn’t cross.

Blog post written. Now what? Dear Christ, now what?

15 thoughts on “Toxic News”

  1. Sorry to hear about about The What and The why. I loved it back in the day when you and Tim posted regularly. Then if (my notoriously bad) memory serves Tim stepped back because he was writing a book (isn’t he always??😝). Then you started the podcast. Which is…*sigh*…fine. No offence intended. I just don’t like them. I much prefer a well written, thoroughly researched article (or blog post!) that you can ponder and reread selectively.Besides at this point podcasts are like sphincters….

    As for FNC did see the BBC documentary that was on a couple of months ago. Also painted James in quite a good light.

    1. To be honest, it’s a miracle anything appears anywhere. There’s no money in any of this and for the 600+ articles we published there (I know I wrote about 100 early on), nobody earned a penny from it, yet hosting the site was pretty expensive. We could have carried it on for free on Blogger but I think Tim’s just happy to see it end, which is understandable. I used to attract too many trolls when I posted on there that I started to feel restricted in what I wanted to say. This blog has liberated me, though also liberated me from nearly all readership…

      Disappointed you don’t enjoy the podcast but I totally understand your reasons.

      Yes, James Murdoch might be our last great hope for saving the planet. I say that partly in jest but only partly. We need Fox’s next owner to take more responsibility for the monster they’ve created.

  2. Ah, memories!. I bet deep down you miss old Mr Hat and Coat and Bag ;-. I’m actually surprised that there weren’t people queuing up to write articles for the site given Tim’s recent high profile as a writer and the amount of people who purport to want a career in the media. Even I wrote a couple of articles for the site and I have nothing to sell, no career to forge and frankly hate writing stuff. What is Tom Arms going to do with himself?.

    1. Urgh. Don’t remind me. It reminds me of this Fox News book I’m reading, where there’s now a gulf between true fiscal/social conservatives and the Trumpian nutjobs who see him as the Second Coming. That guy you mention was obsessed with “Judao-Christian values” which is a term straight from the Steve Bannon playbook. Seems obvious now but back then I was still foolishing trying to be polite and make room for his arguments in my political theology.

      As for articles: there were the odd offer but I think both Tim and myself were a bit embarrassed by how much Tom was contributing, whilst we never seemed to find the time ourselves. For me, especially, I increasingly felt like there’s a big difference between writing for my own blog where I feel moderately happy with my ratio of ignorance/speculation/knowledge and then writing for another site where I feel more of an obligation to really know my stuff. A blog post can be written in half an hour and I don’t mind being more chatter and speculative. A proper article takes hours or writing and rewriting. Not saying one is inherently better but I think people come to a blog with different expectations than a news site. Or I hope they do…

  3. He was well known as an online/disqus agitator, or so I have read. Any fake news appears on here and I’ll report you to OFBLOG.

    1. Ah, that rings a bell. I remember seeing him bad mouthing me on some far-right Disqus thing.

      Pah! OFBLOG doesn’t have any statutory powers. I’m free to ignore whatever they say…

  4. Yes I vaguely remember some odd comments under both your and Tim’s articles (the only ones I read). Although I did admire you’re willingness to come ‘below the line’. At the risk of repeating myself I just think it’s such a shame. At one point it looked (admittedly from the outside) likeit was really taking off. As Rob said with Tim’s name recognition then and contacts I’m also surprised you weren’t fight people off.
    Do hope your not offend by my podcast comments. I just dislike the genre for lots of reasons and all my favourite websites/blogs from 5years ago are now podcasts…Maybe I’m just a dial up millennial at heart…

    1. I suppose it comes down to energy. Any successful site requires somebody with enough enthusiasm to put effort into maintaining it and I really didn’t have enough to keep it bubbling along. Nor did Tim given his other committments. I built the site, maintained the site, and I didn’t have the energy to write for the site. It’s like the podcast (not offended, btw, I have specific feelings about podcasts myself) which I spend hours editing. We’re up to about 80 episodes and I’ve not earned a thing for the hundreds of ours of effort involved. Would be different if I was selling books off the back of it but I don’t. The really sobering reality, if I’m honest, is that people come for Tim, not for me. I could easily spend my week working full time hours and earning nothing, only I’m not sure I should.

      It’s a problem with the medium and most sites that can’t afford to pay for contributions. The virtue was giving people a place to see their work in a semi-professional context but it’s wrong that nobody can earn from their efforts. I wish it were otherwise.

  5. I agree it’s a shame – it was nice to get a sensible viewpoint about stuff and I always liked “Lost in the mire” because, having read it, a few weeks later I could appear remarkably prescient about developments. I think the thing with the podcast was that I always felt as though I had to set aside a certain amount of time to listen to it as opposed to just dipping into the articles when I had a spare 10 mins or so. It was still good, just didn’t work as well for me. Thanks anyway for doing it for as long as you did.

    1. The podcast isn’t finishing, though perhaps it should! You’re now the second person to say they don’t listen and that accounts for about 70% of this blog’s readership!

      The article side of it is only moving to a free site, partly because of cost and partly because of time.

      1. Well, that’s good to know. I feel “guilted” into making the time to listen now though! Seriously, I do enjoy it – but I still thing you shouldn”t let that David bloke talk over you 🙂

        1. LOL. You shouldn’t feel guilt. Not now you’ve just won ‘Comment of The Year’ award!

          That plays into so many of my neuroses, it’s uncanny! 😉

  6. Sad to see the end of The What and the Why but understand that all things must come to an end. Always enjoyed reading you and Tim’s thoughts on global affairs. The Lost in the Mire section was especially helpful when I was trying to make myself look more knowledgeable to my friends! Big thanks for publishing that one article I wrote and a wider thank you for working so hard on it.

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It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?


Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.