Monday, 5 March 2012

NYT: Know Thy Contributor

Ever wondered how people get in to writing for newspapers?

With some people it's easy. They study some sort of journalism course then apply for jobs. Lots of jobs. They eventually get one of them then start tapping away at the out of date computer on their new desk.

But these sorts of people just write news. What about the columnists? The opinionistas who write leaders and the middle sections of the quality press. Where do they come from? Some of them are experts in the field they cover who have written books and get asked to contribute to the press. Others just appear like a nineteenth century party leaders or England cricket captains.

The spotlight that the Olympics has cast on London has inspired the New York Times to publish a handy guide for its readers entitled 'Explaining Londoners.'

Although I only have access to the online version of this the main piece seems to be an amazingly long essay by novelist China Mieville (me neither) who is from Norwich and writes Science Fiction.

You might think a SF writer a strange choice to write about the current state of London and you would be correct.

So what made the NYT choose Mr Mieville for this task? At the foot of the article they merely describe him as an author or several books who lives and works in London. It doesn't even say that he's a SF writer in case this would lead to readers not taking him seriously enough.

What they fail to mention is that he is a member of the Socialist Workers Party who has even stood for them at a general election. That he achieved 459 votes in a Labour constituency tells you all you need to know about how in touch with the real London they are.

Unsurprisingly, Mieville's never-ending piece paints a grim picture of London. He uses the classic Chomsky method of half truths and shameful exaggeration to suit his political ends. He knows the majority of the American readers will have no idea about the truth or even controversial nature of what he is saying so he can push is distorted reality on them with ease.

I won't go through all the errors he makes or lies he tells as that would require a dissertation and this is a blog not a PhD.

Speaking of PhD's Mieville's is a good example of his take on reality.

When speaking about the rule of law he claims that 'A world structured around international law cannot but be one of imperialist violence. The chaotic and bloody world around us is the rule of law.'

If you can't see how the law protects the weak from the strong you should move to a country without it for a few months.

There are plenty of people in this country who believe the same sort of nonsense as Mieville but they at least have the chance to see things in context even if they choose not to. What chance do American readers have? None. In the same way we could not truly appreciate Obama's rise or Tea Party lunatics.

The New York Times should be ashamed of itself. Printing a communist diatribe full of rewritten history that its readers will not be able to interpret with any sort of balance.

You wonder at their motives might be for commissioning this most biased and ignorant of writers. There surely must be more than the sour grapes from a failed Olympic bid as the Telegraph supposes.

Though as Tim Stanley points out in the same paper New York, it could be argued, is faring no better than London. He claims that against the U.S.'s national trend murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault all on the rise in the Big Apple. Murders up 14 per cent.

Perhaps the NYT just wanted its readers not to feel like they were the only city with problems.

If that's the case they should have sent a correspondent rather than a propagandist with an axe to grind.


  1. Perhaps you should explain some of his "errors and lies" for the benefit of those of us who do agree with this "nonsense". I would say that he's somewhat overstating the problem of Ring Necked Parakeets at present, although the rate at which they're spreading is of some concern, but I would hardly call that reason to dismiss the article as a "communist diatribe". I'm sure you have more reason than just "sour grapes".

    In return I will point out an error of your own. The article by China Mieville is called ‘Oh, London, You Drama Queen’. The 'Explaining Londoners' article, to which Mieville did not contribute, can be found here:

    You should recognise it when you see it, it's the one with "Explaining Londoners" written at the top. I'm just guessing, but did you by any chance read the Telegraph article first? I say that because the Telegraph linked to the wrong page. Possibly they made the mistake because they were so enraged by the NYT's description of Daily Telegraph readers as "Older conservatives who mourn the loss of the empire by placing cricket before family. Last truly happy on D-Day."

    1. I won't go in to something that I said during the blog that I wouldn't.

      The point of the piece was that the New York Times was not being honest with its readers. They gave the impression that they were just reading a British novelist telling it how it is rather than a prominent member of a leading extreme left wing organisation.

      You should have recognised that when you saw it. It's in the title.

      As for the titles and links the whole section in the NYT was called Explaining Londoners, the piece you have linked to (as I also did on my twitter and facebook feeds) was just the front piece for the whole 'special'. This piece has the right tone. Funny, light-hearted and affectionate.

      Mieville's essay is actually called Apocalyptic London in the paper. Perhaps that sounded a bit strong so they changed it on the website.

      As I hadn't followed the Telegraph's links to discover their error it should be clear that I didn't read their piece first.

      Finally, if you find my language too strong but can't see the political motivation behind each line of Mieville's fulmination then I would suggest you have more to learn about the subject than SF writers or stand-up comedians can teach you.

      Unless, of course, you're not British. But then that's the point, isn't it?