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The Tea Party do have a hard time of it, don’t they? Recently I’ve been watching Aaron Sorkin’s new drama The Newsroom. The show follows the fortunes of news anchor Will McAvoy and his team as they attempt to hark back to Cronkite era of impartial news. Fans of Sorkin’s earlier work, including A Few Good Men and West Wing will know that Sorkin, a committed Democrat and occasional campaigner has a tendency towards idealism in his work which occasionally slips into full-on bias. Thus, although McAvoy is a paid up Republican, he is attempting to save his party from the Tea Party, who are repeatedly labelled ‘dangerous’. When McAvoy’s boss is warned by the head of the company to tone down the attacks, he responds that all they are doing is reporting facts, and that sometimes giving the other side of the story is a distortion, rather than enlightening
Yet these aren’t facts, they are opinions. Disagreeing with another’s opinion doesn’t render it defunct. At first I wondered whether Sorkin was subtly sending up the liberal media, but then I realised he wasn’t. The left genuinely think that the only legitimate opinions are their own, ergo they must be ‘fact’.
Ok, so I could get all irritated and start throwing cushions at the screen, but it’s just fiction. I have better things to raise my blood pressure over.
Like, for example, when the BBC do this sort of thing.
Yesterday on Woman’s Hour Jenny Murray presented a view of Ayn Rand so egregiously biased that it can only be accurately described as a hatchet job. She started by asking “Why would an atheist, pro-choice Russian émigré become the darling of the American Right?” Unfortunately, it’s a question that neither Murray nor her guests were able to answer.
Murray asked her first guest, Dr James Boys (visiting professor at Kings College, London), why Paul Ryan has cited Rand as his favourite author (Ryan gives Atlas Shrugged to his interns as required reading). Boys replied “perhaps it has something to do with his age… I believe he came of a certain age during the Reagan years. If you look at what Reagan says – that government isn’t the solution to our problems, government is the problem, I think that ties in very well. If you’re an impressionable young man from Wisconsin in the early 1980s and you’re looking for something to read … I think there is a degree to which Rand’s work very much appeals maybe if you’re in your late teens and you don’t have a family, when you can believe in simplistic solutions to life. The older you get, you realise there are no simple solutions… He’s trying to desperately walk this back, and I think if he could he’d say ‘oh I never said that’ sort of thing. But of course we’ve got it on tape saying that she’s very influential.”
Nothing to do with the fact that Rand describes (with alarming accuracy at times) the perils of corporatism, and the virtues of self-interest when it allows people to be creative and industrious. No, Ryan likes Rand because when he was a lost teenager, her writings were simplistic enough for him to take comfort in them.
Murray’s next guest, Jay Kleinberg of Brunel University goes further. Murray asked Kleinberg why the Tea Party would adopt Galt in their slogans. Kleinberg replies “what they pick out from Atlas Shrugged and particularly The Fountainhead is the worship of the strong masculine male. And that then allows them to ignore rape, which is one of the central subplots in The Fountainhead, and that ties in with the recent remarks of ‘if a woman is really raped her body will shut down and she won’t become pregnant’ hence there is no need for abortion.” They then went on to discuss the rape scene in The Fountainhead (“yes, I was appalled by that too let me hasten to add!” pipes up Murray – just in case we weren’t sure) as evidence of Rand’s rejection of feminism, as though that was the central tenet of the book. It isn’t.
Let’s leave aside the fact that only one Republican candidate has made a frankly bizarre comment about rape, which the rest of the party has rightly distanced themselves from. The Fountainhead is a complex book, it many themes weaving through the various characters’ stories over the course of years. Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is present throughout, even influencing the romantic lives of four main characters in sometimes highly subtle ways. To take this book and reduce it to one scene of rape is a dubious way to approach the novel, not least because it shows the sort of simplistic reduction that Boys seems to think a mainstay of right-leaning thought. My recollection of the book, including that aspect of the story was very different from Murray and Kleinberg’s, so I looked up that scene – a pivotal moment in the relationship of the main protagonist and the female lead. This is how Rand describes the female character’s feelings on the matter: “the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted”. Rand doesn’t dismiss rape, and she certainly doesn’t give the Republicans an excuse to dismiss rape. Rape is always brutal and objectionable, no less so in this book, and Rand doesn’t try to dress it up as anything less. What she does do is describe complex, sometimes nonsensical human emotions in a sympathetic way. I’ll leave it to psychologists to explore why or whether a strong woman might desire domination by a man to respect him, but will say that the recent astronomic sales figures of Fifty Shades of Grey suggest that it’s not an uncommon urge, whether the feminists like it or not.
I’ll be complaining to the BBC, but I don’t expect much will come of it. They will most likely claim that the views given above are an impartial relating of ‘the facts’. This is what’s so problematic about the BBC – the bias is so ingrained that it’s unrecognisable from the inside.
Another quick parallel with The Newsroom: the producer of the show calls in her economics editor to explain economics to her. All of economics, starting right at the beginning. When I watched that episode I asked myself whether the producer of a major news program has any right to be in that job if they haven’t the faintest grasp of economics, and then I recalled something that Paul Mason, economics editor of Newsnight said at a conference I attended this summer. He was talking about the libertarian support for the Occupy movement (given because libertarians wanted to protest the corporatism that made the banks too big to fail), and he said: “The interesting thing about Occupy London Stock Exchange is that it tended to develop quite a libertarian critique of capitalism. They weren’t joking when they said that Hayek was anti-capitalist, which to me is slightly rubbish.” For the economics editor to disagree with Hayek would be one thing. For him to misunderstand Hayek to the extent that he is not aware of corporatism as a concept (which appears to be the case), is a very worrying other.
The author of this article is Donna Edmunds. She tweets @DonnaInSussex
- The Freedom Association’s Magna Carta Pimms and Politics Cruise on June 15, 2013 12:30 pm
- Conservative Renewal Conference on September 14, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on September 30, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on October 1, 2013
- Christmas Lunch in the Cotswolds on December 7, 2013 12:30 pm
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