Media Matters

Sharp Turns

Plus ever widening gaps between intelligence and culture.

By 4.24.06

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Those who want to appear prescient can start talking now about the "Sharp Turn to the Right in Britain" that will be in the headlines two weeks from now as a result of the large gains likely to be made by the British National Party in the local elections on May 4. There's no art to making such a prediction. Polls are now showing the BNP as pulling in a quarter of the electorate, and historically the polls tend to understate the party's level of support. This is because some people don't like to tell pollsters that they support an organization routinely represented as "fascist" or a "racist." It is so represented partly because of its opposition to immigration, which I believe to be mistaken in principle, and partly because it really is fascist and racist -- at least if we go by the things that some of its more extreme supporters say. But Rachel Sylvester of the Daily Telegraph has an advance diagnosis of the causes of this prospective political earthquake that sounds more persuasive to me than latent British racism:

The truth is that support for the BNP is not really a protest vote against a racially mixed society: it is a cry of rage about the quality of life in some of the poorest areas in the country. There is not much cheerleading for the far Right in the streets of Chelsea. The BNP is exploiting a growing sense of frustration with genuine problems: the lack of affordable housing, the increase in low-level crime, the failure of inner-city schools, the loss of a sense of identity among white working-class men following the collapse of traditional industries. These failures are not really anything to do with race -- although, of course, the more people come to live in an area, the more stretched local resources will be -- but the BNP has diverted a general sense of grievance into a specific feeling of unfairness based on a perception that there is "us and them."

Of course, this isn't to say that there isn't an us and a them. But the "them" in this case isn't the immigrants themselves nearly so much as it is the liberal multiculturalists in the dominant culture who want to prevent them from assimilating.

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One of the grievances of the poorer sorts of Britons, mentioned above, may be the one which is most assiduously fostered by the media, namely "the growing income gap between rich and poor," an old chestnut trotted out by the American media even more promiscuously than by the British. For example, on April 16 the New York Times told us of how "Revival in Japan Brings Widening of Economic Gap." No need to ask what "gap" that might be! "Japan's economy," said the Times, "after more than a decade of fitful starts, is once again growing smartly. Instead of rejoicing, however, Japan is engaged in a nationwide bout of hand-wringing over increasing signs that the new economy is destroying one of the nation's most cherished accomplishments: egalitarianism." I don't know enough about Japan to be able to say whether or not that's true about the hand-wringing, but if it is the tender-minded Japanese are wringing their hands over a tautology. Or so it seems to me. The fabled gap that causes the media, at least, so much anguish has always struck me as being an obvious and necessary artifact of the growth that otherwise appears so desirable. Any time an economy begins to grow, the people at the top are bound to get the new money first -- that is before it "trickles down" (dread words!) to those in the lower income cohorts. By the same token, the only way to bring about greater equality of incomes is for growth to be stagnant, as it was for over a decade in Japan. But, as I may have had occasion to say before, I'm not an economist and should be glad to be put right by anybody who is and who may come to read this.

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Of course we know that the New York Times is, in the immortal words used to describe himself by Keith Olbermann of MSNBC to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, "currently aligned, not in the sense of having membership, but being in the same part of the ballpark as a lot of liberals." Good one, Keith! In that case, how I look forward to the time when that alignment will no longer be current! The Times's presence in the same part of the same ballpark made itself obvious again last week with a headline which, perhaps as recently as a decade ago, would have been inconceivable in our newspaper of record. "On His New Album, Neil Young Calls for Bush's Impeachment." Of course, there's not much news-value in that addition to the ever-growing ranks of anti-war pop stars in spite of Mr. Young's once having found it convenient to associate himself politically with Ronald Reagan. Easy come, easy go ought to be the motto for the political allegiances of the beautiful but largely brainless people of the entertainment community. But what I find much, much sadder is the Times's ever-growing attachment to the values of the celebrity culture, in whose world alone it could possibly imagine anyone cares what Neil Young thinks about George Bush.

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One more straw in the wind indicating the Times's outlook on the world came earlier this month. On the same day, the paper published the obituaries of Fred Christensen, one of the top American fighter aces of World War II and a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Silver Star and the Air Medal, and the Reverend William Sloan Coffin, famed anti-war protester and agitator of the Vietnam era. Which of these distinguished gentlemen do you imagine the Times regarded as having lived a life more deserving of notice and recognition by the American people? Judging by the relative length of their obituaries -- 534 words for Captain Christensen and 2,939 words for the Reverend Mr. Coffin -- the latter ought to be seen as having been, in the Times's eyes, nearly six times more important than the former. No surprises there, then.

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About the Author

James Bowman, our movie and culture critic, is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is the author of Honor: A History and Media Madness: The Corruption of Our Political Culture, both published by Encounter Books.