Free press

As an antiblogger, I am sometimes curious about such competition as may be offered by blogs, and this morning I became aware of a new one: here. What a marvellous thing, I reflected. I credit the gentleman I believe to have been chiefly responsible for its creation, Mr Michael Gove, a minister of state in the United Kingdom.

If gentle reader will peruse the content I have flagged, he will see that, in a plain, clear, timely and decisive way, it utterly demolishes an “insight” article published in the previous day’s Sunday Times. It does so in about the space required, without unnecessary rhetorical flourishes. It does, more serenely, what the American president less serenely attempts in some of his press conferences: to highlight and expose fraudulent and irresponsible work by those whose trade is to circulate garbage. This (street-cleaning or trash removal, as it were) is an important public service.

Although a man of the 13th century I must say that, before the current pandemic, I used to take holidays in the 18th century. This, unfortunately, was where I acquired my propensity to journalism and diffuse prose-writing, and an excessive familiarity with the origins of modern, so-called “enlightened” literature. I once delivered extempore at King’s College, Halifax (the original of Columbia University in New York), a term’s worth of public blather on “The Lives of the Hacks,” sketching this modern history from Defoe and the periodical essayists forward to our later journalists, novelists, and “generations of swine.” I contrasted this enterprising, business tradition with the older arrangements in which journalists were invariably bought, not sold. (Today, they are once again mostly bought.) They were the running dogs of the powerful, or in some cases, their barking, biting antagonists, until either bought off or “retired.”

Oddly, I favoured the new, capitalist arrangements, of the “free press,” even though it frankly contributed to public literacy (even women were accepted as readers), and other indelicacies. The world would become an unhappier place, as more and more information became available. But hélas!

That was nearly thirty years ago, and since, I have become more conservative and backward-looking. I have inwardly concluded that the whole modern experiment is a mistake, though I have had to concede its prevalence. I consider it as a form of plague — intellectual and spiritual — such that, we must seek what antidotes we can find to survive, as we await divine intervention.

One of these antidotes is true information. The old-fashioned (essentially 17th-century) method of commissioning writers to post calm and reasonable refutations to false and malicious reports, is what has been essayed in my link. It is the best that can be hoped in a time when most if not all commercial journalism is not only false, and malicious, but morally degenerate and obscene.

Ideally, we could still have a few newspapers that tried to be factual, and impartial, and to omit rubbish, at least from their news columns. Of course, they would be dull, grey, and sell poorly among the functionally illiterate. But they would serve that tiny minority who need or want to know what is happening in the world, as well as what is not happening. Given the latest technology, perhaps this material could be posted online.

Up here in the High Doganate, we still try to advance the notion of a “free press” — that is, a press that is free of putrid, stinking garbage. We hope to be able to stay out-of-date in this way.