Mess Media…

mediagraphicMy occasional postings touching upon issues of media ownership and bias have actually been known — not often, you understand; just now and then — to provoke mutterings from friends and reader-acquaintances. ‘Don’t go on about this stuff!’, they have — occasionally — grumbled. ‘This is meant to be a classical music blog! Tell us about music instead…’

Well, if I may say so, I don’t consider there to be all that great a disjunction between the two topics. Obviously, they’re not ‘the same thing’: talking about, say, Beethoven’s employment of third-related keys in the later stages of sonata expositions is clearly not co-extensive with discussion of the avalanche of elite-serving lies that state-corporate media tries every morning to get you and me to swallow with our dippy egg and soldiers. (Yes, BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’, I’m looking at you…), at the same time, it’s not as if these areas are entirely unconnected. Both the true artist and the true journalist spend their working lives on a mission to ‘tell it like it is‘ — the artist focusing (non-conceptually, non-propositionally) on the inner world without altogether denying the outer; the journalist concentrating (conceptually, propositionally) upon the outer world without entirely ignoring the inner — with the consequence that both are engaged upon what are essentially moral tasks: in each case they fail their addressees if ever they act with anything other than ruthless honesty. And, in case you’d like me to give you a clue, such a moment of failure comes whenever either of them decides to behave as if resisting the rule of wealth; questioning the demands of big business; or opposing the engagement in wars of imperial conquest are acts no longer to be seen as reasonable, humane or necessary…

Image result for hedgehogAll right, maybe that ‘inclusive’ approach makes me a ‘hedgehog’ rather than a ‘fox’ — as per the analysis of dear old Archilochus, from 700 BCE or thereabouts. According to him, ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing‘…

But if even Archilochus isn’t good enough for you, then think about Beethoven. What would he do — the great ‘Ludwig van’! — were he faced with the truth-defying contortions of our modern, state-corporate media…? If you’ve ever seen the damage he did to the original ‘Bonaparte’ dedication on the front page of his ‘Eroica’ score when he discovered what Napoleon was actually up to…


(Click for a larger image.)

…then just imagine what he would have done to the front page of an elite-serving, millionaire-owned newspaper that tried to herd him and his contemporaries into supporting an unprovoked and illegal war by presenting a bare-faced lie, supported by a wholly fraudulent image

evening standard45mins

…or, for that matter, what he would have done to the front page of an elite-serving, millionaire-owned newspaper that tried to persuade him of the ‘rightness’ of that original lie by printing a faked, ‘photoshopped’ picture in support of it and its consequences

[[Insert: What’s that? You don’t see the problem with that fabricated image of a joyful crowd of ‘grateful, liberated’ Iraqis? Don’t you? Don’t you really? Even though your suspicions ought to have been aroused by the fact that the rejoicing ‘member of the public’ shown at the bottom left is very obviously one of US conspirator-puppet Ahmed Chalabi’s flown-in bodyguards — a man seen over and over again in Western propaganda images of the crime, I mean the time…?

What’s that? You’re still not sure what I mean? Oh, very well: look at the top half of that front-page ‘huge rejoicing crowd’ photo, and examine it very carefully…

…and then try to see it through the eyes of the kind of man who was able to discern, and to admit, that Bonaparte had fooled him — that the forces of violent, expansionist tyranny had for a time (but only for a time!) succeeded in submerging him in a miasma of stinking, murderous lies…

Does that help to clarify things … at all…?]]

Of course, I daresay there will be one or two readers resistant even to this quick bit of ‘What Would Beethoven Do?‘ — so let me move straight to three small and very recent examples of published material in which state-corporate media insiders can be found involving themselves with actual music-related matters…

*     *     *

First, here’s a quote from a speech given by a prominent UK politician on August 26th. My guess is that you — as someone who reads a classical music-centred blog like this one! — would like to have heard about it … but never did. For, apparently, the politician in question

… told an audience in Edinburgh he wanted to fight against the elitism which, he claimed, made it appear as if only the wealthy could enjoy so-called ‘highbrow’ culture.

He said that he had a deep affection for the work of Mahler and liked other “pretty heavy classical music” — and believed this should be available to all.

“I hate the elitism [that says] only the wealthy can go to ballet, only the wealthy can go to opera, only the wealthy can go to Glyndebourne, only the wealthy can enjoy what’s termed highbrow music,” he said.

“I don’t consider myself highbrow or wealthy, but I still enjoy some aspects of classical music. I want everybody to have that attitude and that same experience.”

The first observation I’d like to make at this point concerns a hitherto mysterious report from one of my spies that this very same politician had been seen in the audience at ‘Prom 46’ on August 20th; i.e. six days before that Edinburgh speech. Since the programme for this concert contained three works…prom46(Screen-grab from the BBC Proms website, showing a write-up of extraordinary imbecility.)

…I had in fact been wondering for days what it was the politician in question was most interested in hearing. It now seems likely that he was there to hear the Rückert-Lieder — and can you blame him…?

So why didn’t you read or hear about the politician’s love of Mahler? The simple answer is because of who that politician is. He is, of course, Jeremy Corbyn — the Labour Party leader whose year-long project to increase popular participation in UK politics and to use his unprecedented mandate to bring about the resurrection of meaningful political choice has put him on the receiving end of an unrelenting, full-spectrum media assault the like of which this country has never seen. As a result, only one single newspaper (The Times — which is hidden behind a paywall) bothered to record his reference to Mahler — and no state-corporate media outlet at all was able to restrain itself from manufacturing the most hostile and personal anti-Corbyn propaganda by focusing instead on what remained once they had removed all of the context and most of the content from the line that went

I don’t consider myself highbrow or wealthy, but I still enjoy some aspects of classical music […]

Or, to put it another way, the ‘news story’ you actually saw — in some form or other — was this one


(Click on the image to see the full write-up.)

*     *     * my second example, I am turning to a report that I found on so-called ‘social media’. I won’t name the famous classical musician who wrote it, nor the equally famous classical musician he mentions in it, partly because I haven’t asked their permission, but mostly because — substantial artists though they both are — their names aren’t what matters here: the kind of thing being reported can happen to anyone at all — yes, even to you, gentle reader! — if and when a media organisation decides that you, or someone close to you, might be — for whatever reason, and in whatever respect — useful to them. Nor will I name the BBC interviewer whose shameful behaviour this is all about, richly though she and her producer deserve to be publicly shamed: here too, the important point to rub in is that anyone working in the state-corporate media system can be expected to behave in this way towards anyone who works outside it.

Here’s the musician’s story, in my slightly shortened, anonymised version (the added emphasis is mine, too)…

Last week, I was contacted by some people at the BBC, who were doing a profile of the pianist and composer (and more) [NAME REDACTED]. They knew that [he] and I are great friends, and have played together for many years. So I went in to the BBC and talked about him – not an easy thing to do, because it is tricky to describe people to whom one is close. But I was able to talk about what wonderful company [he] is, what lovely and fun times we’ve had on tour together, and how, since we live near to each other, we try to see each other as often as our schedules allow. I also, of course, talked about his marvellous playing, and about the impressive range of his other accomplishments. In short, I gushed…

Towards the end of the fairly lengthy interview, the interviewer fixed me with a beady eye. ‘Is there anything negative you could say?’ she asked. ‘We can’t make a programme of unmixed praise -– it’d be boring’. I said that I didn’t feel comfortable criticising a friend publicly. (In private it’s different!) ‘Oh come on,’ she said persuasively. ‘Is he a saint?’ And this is where I made my mistake. Instead of clamming up, as I should have done, I laughed and answered that he is definitely not a saint (thank goodness; I imagine that saints must get quite boring – and those halos must be distracting at dinner). And followed this up with a description of why I don’t think he’s a saint.

Stupid, stupid me. When I heard the programme, I discovered that they’d edited almost everything else out -– all the praise and appreciation, as well as the many funny stories about [him] that I’d shared -– and just used that (comparatively) negative remark. […]

At the end of his regretful little report, our musician begins to offer a few thoughts that he thinks will be helpful to others:

So my advice is: be careful. … [I]f anything is going into print, think about how your remarks could be misunderstood, and make sure that you express your thoughts as clearly and unmistakably as you can; and if at all possible, insist on reading the interview before it goes into print…

— At which point he reveals himself to be an individual with a genuine talent for naivety as well as for music: with all due respect to a substantial artist, it is in fact little short of ludicrous to imagine that ‘clear and careful verbal expression’ (which many musicians aren’t very good at anyhow) could ever be a defence against the sad reality that what you are providing will be seen, and used, as mere material — something to be pulled and twisted into whatever shape best suits the interests and agendas of an essentially unaccountable individual working for an essentially unaccountable media organisation. how, pray tell, do you ‘insist’ on reading the interview before it goes into print? They may say that they’ll show it to you, or even that they’ll ‘clear it with you’ (especially if this will ensure your participation…); but if it then so happens that they don’t show it to you — or if they do and you want them to make changes that they won’t agree to — what exactly are you going to do about it…? Will you spend time writing an angry letter that will instantly find itself lining the editor’s waste basket? Or will you spend time and money getting your lawyer to write an angry letter that will instantly find itself lining their lawyer’s waste basket? The simple fact is that you were always going to be ‘had’ — and you were.

Thankfully, our musician’s other piece of advice is a little more sensible:

And on a broadcast interview, if someone asks you to describe a friend or colleague in negative terms: suddenly discover that you have developed a sore throat, have lost your voice, and have to go home…

But even this recommendation — combining hard-earned wisdom with exemplary politeness! — is subject to improvement. For one thing, it is actually far too optimistic. Very few people indeed have the sheer psychological and emotional strength to be able to make themselves ‘disappoint’ someone they view, however incorrectly, as an ‘authority figure’. (For information on the famous Milgram Study — which focused on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience — see here). If you want to practise what to do in this specific situation — because you sure as hell won’t be able to improvise it on the day! — try rehearsing the following until it becomes second-nature…

‘Is there anything negative you could say?’

— That’s not something I’ll talk about.

‘We can’t make a programme of unmixed praise — it’d be boring’.

— I’m afraid that’s your problem, not mine.

‘Oh, come on! Is he a saint?’

— Were my two previous answers not clear…?

But even this course of action is, strictly speaking, already a capitulation. For the serious question has to be asked: why would you be participating in ‘a broadcast interview’ in the first place…? The fact that they chose to invite you to talk to them — about yourself, or about someone else — should cut no ice here: every single approach that a normal, decent person receives from a state-corporate media behemoth should be treated in precisely the same way you and I would want a child to treat the approach of a stranger who came up to them and said ‘Would you like to see some puppies…?

mediabeastIn short and in sum: media organisations are not your friends. Nor — as our musician discovered! — are they your friend’s friends. Nor, in case you’ve not yet cottoned on, are they in any meaningful or deep sense the friends of anyone you yourself would want to be or to be friends with. Not only are they in fact your enemy (your ‘class enemy’, if you’ll permit the old-fashioned term), but when they ‘interview’ you, they hold all the cards, all the time — and you, dear innocent interviewee, are there only so that your marrow can grease the cogs of the machine whose masters and beneficiaries are power and capital.

If you happen to know the musician who was suckered so disgracefully by the BBC, try and explain this to him.

*     *     * my third example of what state-corporate media does when it gets its grabbers on matters of musical interest, I turn to a communication that was recently circulated on an international discussion-list (actually that of the ‘American Musicological Society’ — yes, I subscribe). The communication contained a critical, thoughtful letter that had been sent to the Editor of the New York Times‘s ‘Arts Section’ (and was not printed — see what I mean?); its author was Ralph P. Locke, Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the Eastman School of Music.  He uploaded his letter with a note explaining that people should feel free to circulate it — and since it has now been pretty widely shared, my excuse for including an extract from it here is that I have something to say about it that seems not to have been said by anyone else.

Professor Locke’s entire text is findable on this page (within a larger discussion); the part I want to quote is the following — about which no-one needs to know anything in advance, save for the fact that Zachary Woolfe has been ‘Classical Music Editor’ of the New York Times since March 2015…

Zachary Woolfe (Sunday, July 17, “Can a Tool of Power Bring Change?”) proposes that operas from earlier eras were a “tool of [elite] power.” An opera house today, he feels, is morally bound to alter works substantially—or to replace them with new works—in order to “make reparations” for the damage that those works have done over the centuries. His examples include operas by Mozart. […]

Now, me being me, it was probably inevitable that I laughed out loud when I first saw that; and, you being you, it’s more than likely that you can’t quite tell why — any more than you can tell why I have, just this second, laughed out loud once again, with a mouth full of coffee… me explain. First, for the New York Times to be printing an employee’s condemnation of anything at all on the grounds of its being or having been ‘a tool of elite power’ is, literally, a step beyond the reach of parody. For the fact is that nowhere on the planet is there a media organisation more relentlessly and enthusiastically active as ‘a tool of elite power’ than — the New York Times. Anyone whose interest in the real world is sufficiently great that they have stopped reading state-corporate news sources and started reading about state-corporate news sources will know that there isn’t a single topic of major political, economic or ethical importance whose coverage in the NYT is not constantly corrupted by the paper’s utterly submissive compliance with US state and corporate propaganda narratives. Indeed, scarcely a day goes by without informed (independent!) discussion of this very subject crossing one or other of my computer screens: without even searching, I saw this one on August 23; this one on August 27, and this one on August 30. (For three older and crunchier pieces from my NYT folder, try here, here and here.) top of this, there are the ‘solutions’ — as briefly as possible: rewriting, reframing, replacement, reparations — that Zachary Woolfe then advocates for the ‘problem’ he sees as constituted by a work such as Mozart’s 1782 ‘SingspielDie Entführung aus dem Serail, K.384. (Overture here, if you fancy some more music at this point — or you can watch part of the work’s finale as presented in the 1984 film Amadeus.) Now, obviously, anyone is free to propose whatever solution they like for whatever problem they imagine they discern; my point is that nowhere on any page of any issue of the New York Times will any of the paper’s proud employees ever be found arguing that the NYT itself should have its stories compulsorily rewritten and reframed; should be replaced by a more responsible kind of publication; or should engage in whatever else might be necessary to ‘make reparations’ for the massive — in fact, incalculable — harm it is doing every week of every year by acting as a willing propaganda laundering service for some of the vilest and most destructive forces at large in the world. What we encounter in place of such self-awareness is the kind of über-trendy, liberal-elite verbiage which — to quote Woolfe’s actual article — not only insists that…

For centuries, opera has been a tool of power, a spectacle developed and organized by influential Western nations and the elites within them. It is long past time for the art form to be more open about this heritage, and to make reparations for it.

…but actually wonders aloud whether Mozart’s Die Entführung — set ‘among the European captives of a Muslim pasha in the Ottoman Empire’, its Turkish characters ‘domination-obsessed psychopaths or blank mouthpieces for Western ideals of enlightened monarchy’ — is a work that’s ‘even performable today’… you see what is happening here? Can you tell why my shirt is covered with spilled coffee? An influential media organisation whose ceaselessly mendacious and manipulative product wraps itself in counter-factual self-validation (‘The Newspaper of Record‘; ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print‘) has — as the real record shows — enabled and praised an entire succession of monstrous, US-led war crimes. Its staff writers celebrated the attack on suffering Afghanistan; agitated for the invasion and destruction of Iraq; self-righteously cheered the wrecking of Libya’s social order and infrastructure; have happily channelled calls for the US-backed terrorist campaign within Syria to be upgraded to open assault and invasion; and are now obediently completing the ground-work that will ‘justify’ military confrontations with Iran, Russia and China. (This catalogue is not exhaustive.) And yet, when the urge arises to apportion blame for suffering and assign responsibility for injustice and its devaluation, all that this tool of elite power feels able to do is point the finger at … a Mozart opera — telling its readership that, in effect, a bill for ‘damage done’ now needs to be presented to a composer who died 225 years ago and never agitated for an invasion in his entire life. Yes: the fact that Die Entführung is a work which ‘makes comedy out of sex slavery’ places it beyond the pale — according to a newspaper in whose pages an article that makes ‘humanitarian intervention’ out of neo-imperial aggression may appear on any day of any year…

As the phrase goes, ‘you couldn’t make it up’.

Incidentally, the current head of the Washington-serving, corporate-serving, Israel-serving, endlessly warmongering NYT is ‘President and CEO’ Mark Thompson — who was previously head of the Washington-serving, corporate-serving, Israel-serving, endlessly warmongering BBC. You couldn’t make that up, either…


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