Andy McCluskey, the frizzy-haired frontman of Synth-Pop architects Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, once reflected on the attempts of the British music press to kill the career of Gary Numan, whose rise to fame and fortune had rendered them redundant. ‘I am absolutely convinced,’ he said, ‘that Numan’s career was shortened by nasty vitriolic journalism.’ At the time, some music journalists had acquired characteristics that placed them (probably in their own heads more than anyone else’s) on a level playing field with the musicians they were writing about. Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons followed the lead of American rock scribes like Lester Bangs by portraying themselves as radical desperadoes sailing close to the wind in their attempts to chronicle their culture from the cutting edge.
Rising bands paid their dues on the pub & club circuit and entered into a contract with the music press hack, whose heaped praise in their early days had to be acknowledged when the stadium called. Gary Numan hadn’t played the game from day one and had managed to bypass the whole system on his way to the top of the charts; in many respects, his route to success pre-empted the route taken by the Rave acts a decade later, but coming in the immediate post-Punk era, when self-important music journalists regarded their role as pivotal to the star-making process, Numan’s spurning of the system enraged them into bilious character assassination. The media doesn’t like it when the people highlight its irrelevancy.
I suppose all that is a roundabout way of introducing the latest buzzword being bandied about by the media into the conversation – post-truth. Ironically, the term as currently utilised owes its presence to the relentless bombardment of 24-hour news, both on TV and online, which the media has saturated the population with for the last decade or so, spawning mistrust, cynicism and feelings of alienation from seats of power as well as the media itself. Recent events have revived a term first coined (as far as can be discerned) in a 1992 essay by the late playwright Steve Tesich, though it was quickly apprehended by those documenting the world after 9/11 and has re-emerged as a means of describing the political landscape in the wake of both Brexit and the Trump triumph.
The rise of the Professional Politician and the slick selling of them to the electorate by their media-savvy advisors and media mouthpieces has ultimately failed in convincing the public to tick the required box in the polling booth. Nowhere was this more evident than in the EU Referendum, where the well-oiled Remain machine utterly underestimated the aversion of the people to this Mandelson model, choosing instead to flock around those who rejected the ad-man image, such as Bo-Jo and Farage, merely because they appeared to be an alternative to the mainstream. The patent untruths they offered as their alternative – the millions paid to the EU being redistributed to the NHS as the most obvious example – didn’t matter; what they were offering was something the people wanted more than they wanted to remain members of the European Union.
During both the EU Referendum and the 2016 US Presidential campaign, wild accusations were made against ‘the other side’ that weren’t scrutinised with much precision by voters because their distrustful beliefs were being vocalised by those whose outsider status seemed to make them more plausible and relatable figures in contrast to the opposition. Donald Trump’s disputing of Barack Obama’s American citizenship, long before he embarked upon the path that has taken him to where he is now, is another example of facts not getting in the way of something certain sections of the public wanted to believe; and if their man said it out loud, it was true. In the middle of the Referendum, the Daily Telegraph declared ‘Facts are negative. Facts are pessimistic. Facts are unpatriotic.’ And when facts are propagated by an enemy whose tactics increasingly resemble a Chris Morris parody of news broadcasts, facts cease to have any credibility at all.
Confronted by the information overload of the 24-hour news media, many have preferred to turn to social media and its propensity for echo-chamber practices, just as they once selected a particular newspaper for reflecting their beliefs back to them. The use of the internet as a means of encouraging antipathy towards the political establishment also echoes earlier uses of the printing press, such as during the French Revolution, with the successful blackening of Marie Antoinette’s character in scurrilous pamphlets. Fleet Street and its declining physical copy sales have already felt the force of this sea-change and television is now suffering as a consequence. Giving the majority of its current affairs airtime to the class of politicians who have shown themselves unworthy of public trust has the effect of driving many into the arms of the extremists on both left and right as well as being susceptible to any conspiracy theory, creating a wide divide it’s hard to imagine being healed in the near-future.
Anti-Brexit protests here and anti-Trump protests across the Atlantic have emphasised the irreconcilable divisions of 2016, the post-truth reality of politics in the twenty-first century. If the people are taking it onto the streets rather than kicking their TVs in or ripping up their newspapers, and are voting with their hearts instead of accepting the powers-that-be as corrupt and contemptible figures completely detached from their lives with a shrug of the shoulders, it shows how the media has failed in accurately articulating the public mood. Every media prediction of a political outcome over the last eighteen months – the 2015 UK General Election, the 2016 US Presidential Election, and the EU Referendum – has been wrong. Politicians and media have never been more separated from the electorate than they are today, and no matter how many dirty tricks they unleash in a failed attempt to counteract their irrelevancy, they only have themselves to blame.
© The Editor