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Football good, politics bad. Allegedly

Posted on 22 April 2009 | 12:04am

I didn’t manage to the end of the opening Newsnight report on MPs’ expenses before deciding that bed was a better place to be (via this quick blog), but I couldn’t help but be struck by a formidable contrast tonight …

between the basic pro-football stance of Sky Sports coverage of football – admittedly easier when you have a match like tonight’s 4-4 draw between Liverpool and Arsenal – and Newsnight’s basic anti-politics coverage of politics.

From the opening titles onwards, (shots of money pouring out of cash machines) every word, every image, (eg a succession of fabulous dishes designed to give the impression MPs eat nothing but the best three times a day) every intonation of presenter and reporter alike was basically intended to say – forget what this story is about, just take the message that all politics is crass and all politicians are venal.

It is not. They are not.

This is not an anti-BBC or pro-Sky point. Sky’s political coverage is also driven by the belief that politics is best presented in a bad light.

What has for years been developing as a culture of media negativity is now getting closer to nihilism. I think that most journalists have stopped even thinking whether they have any responsibility for what they now routinely describe as a breakdown in trust between politicians and public, or any reason to care.


  • Em

    I understand what you’re saying but sports provide great narrative arcs which politics simply do not. In sports, there’s always a winner, there’s always an up side.

    Expenses: it’s difficult to feel sorry for politicians on this one. Journalists are story tellers and the husband who gets the taxpayers to pay for his porn is simply too good a story to pass up. Would you have passed it up on your journalistic days?

    It’s only six here, so I think I’m going to watch Newsnight online. Goodnight.

  • Stephen Smith

    On football lists one is discouraged from making “I agree” posts. However since this is in the crass world of politics, could I just say : I agree !

  • Hannah

    The press portray a dismal view of politicians, one which I feel 99% of them do not deserve. I agree with you. Particularly with your views of the Mail group. However, when I hear and read your views – I remember your treatment of John Major during his time as PM, when you were on the Mirror. I have heard you say it is not your finest hour in journalism, but wonder if you do not feel rather hypocritical now. Surely what we have today is what you – and others – started.

  • wyrdtimes

    It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

    Mr Campbell what do you make of Mr Brown’s latest media outing? Do you think he’s doing the Labour cause some good?

    As a fellow Scot, don’t you think you should have a word with him? Or is he going for the sympathy vote?

    Politics eh… wheels within wheels.

    Interesting that Number 10 have moved away from the Youtube format though. Labour always have the ratings and the comments turned off anyway so why bother moving to Brightcove?

    They don’t really like the idea of the people having their say do they?

  • betty curtis

    Glad you stayed up to watch this disgraceful reporting–

    If they think they can get away with this stuff we have to show them up as being dishonest for taking our licence fee and producing what is nothing more than an apology for a News programme and their so called journalists.

  • RGA

    Alastair – we know now, more than ever, that politics is venal and self-serving. The evidence is becoming clearer everyday. Not only bath-plugs and porn films being claimed on expenses at our expense, but now back-room smear campaigns and “attack sites” to try and titify and arouse our disdain. Politicians are taking the general public for idiots, and frankly, we’re not prepared to put up with it any more. We have been taken for granted – and we are annoyed.

    If we are wrong, it is now for your politician friends to prove it to us. Not the other way round.

    Stop saying “It is not. They are not” and let’s see some evidence – because there’s plenty going against your cronies.

    God help us if the BNP grow a brain-cell, and use this to their advantage. If they do, yours is the culture that let it happen.

    I’m sickened. And I have been a Labour voter all my life.

  • Em

    OMG, you were right, Newsnight WAS dreadful. They never know when to stop flogging a dead horse, do they? Muhammed Ali story was interesting but I have strong feelings about “soft news” and I don’t believe Newsnight should be covering apolitical topics.

  • Mike Barlow

    Madness abounds. Recession, depression, revolters, revolted. Public abhorrence minus Public Bodies equals Public hangings.

    Blame the media, blame the politicians, blame the bankers. They all have a special place in our hearts….the bit that wants to kill somebody.


  • Mike Barlow

    By the way AC, what think you of Will Self?

    I think he and you are made from much the same mould.
    He’s possibly got the better public image ;o)

    Best wishes,


  • Jane A

    I think Sky’s coverage rides in on a rather simplistic sociological horse ; football is the opiate of the masses (buy our multi-various SkySports channels, why don’t you?) so very much in their interests to plug as all the intellectual stimulus we need; politics the manicured green turf of a spoilt elite (clear off and watch BBC Parliament then, if you want to know the facts; otherwise here is our translation thereof), and they play to their subscription audiences tastes.

    I didn’t see Newsnight, I honestly can’t be doing with it.

    Sorry, was that a bit of a rant?! Media coverage of politics gets my goat bigtime, and on the eve of a Budget, they are all on a hysterics trip.

  • Arnie

    Well, as a member of the public who has the intelligence to discern the truth, the most compelling evidence is Smith,McNaulty, Hoon and all the rest.
    Obviously all pollys are not bad or corrupt but Gordon failed to weed out the bad apples and you reap what you sow.
    Thank your lucky stars that you dont have Fox News inciting the country to Tea Partys/Revolution

  • Stuart Le Gassick


    With regard to politics and football, I have several issues with both today, so I will bore you senseless with my opinions.

    Firstly Polotics I thought David Cameron and his family handled the tragic death of his son with such class and sincerity. Only to have animals in the Labour team make up slur stories about Cameron. Absolutely deplorable.I cannot accept that Gordon is not aware of these people and their qualifications and background to be in the most important office in the Land. Comment Please!!!

    The other issue is that of Moody’s degrading the ratings of some of our building societies!! Are the Rating Agencies the same ones who gave Sub Prime a Clean bill of health? making traders able to buy and sell the sub prime securities on screens, all over the world! =The Direct cause of the lack of confidence in the Financial Markets hence the ‘Credit Crunch’ Again Comment please!!!

    I also had the oportunity to ask William Hague what he thought Camerons Government could have done different if they were in power at the time of the financial crisis!! His answer was about the same as Brown only they would have done it faster. I dont think that anyone could have prediceted what happened with Sub Prime. I think that Brown is unlucky! Taking over from your mate Tony at exactly the wrong time and what he has inhertited in problems is very Unlucky.. Blair though, is very Lucky or more astute than Gordon!!!


    The so called knowledgeable Sports Hacks have done it again!! Critising Fergy for his team he picked against a fastly improving Everton managed by another talented Jock (That Makes 3)

    Ferg has Champions League to play for!!

    He Has Premire League to win!!

    FA. Cup is the least important of the three trophies!

    Man Utd should have been awarded a penalty and won the game!!

    In the Penalty shoot out it was two of their experienced players who missed the penalties!!
    Ferg picks young team.

    Faced with a possible FA Cup Semi Final

    Possible FA Cup Final

    Two Champions League Games against Arsenal!

    A possible Champuions League Final

    7 Remaining Premier League Matches left!!

    Therefore 12 games in a short time!!!!

    Thank God Fergy makes the decisions based on what is best for Man Utd ‘the’ Club and whats best for his players!!

    Rather than the Beer Sotted Hags who are totally clueless!! Comment Please!!

    Tirade over!!!


  • James

    Alastair – you are right that not all politicians are dodgy but they have created and existed in a system which encourages excess and allows corrpution to grow. This is not a trivial story – it goes to the heart of our democracy. If we can’t trust the people who are governing us (regardless of party) – particularly at the most serious times of war and recession – then you are in a bad place. Until they clear this up and bring in complete transparency then they deserve to be viewed with some suspicion. Why on earth would they not bring in rules the rest of us live under? It’s bizarre that you can’t see this.

  • Ian Eastwood

    Just like in business when times are bad and money’s tight, businesses and people look inwards at way’s to cut back and save costs in all areas some painful.

    When the general publics perception all be it mainly media lead that Westminster is one full of fat cats lining there pockets at there expenses they want blood.

    GB should have seen this coming and got is house in order laid the law down to the cabinet and MP’s and headed the media pack off at the pass.

  • Robin Sayer

    The media used to reflect public opinion, but they’ve now gone so far down the road of demonization & characature that’s it’s as though they’ve convinced themselves and each other that every politician is an evil selfish baby eater. The old hands like John Humphreys have got the sneering down to a fine art which has now become as natural to them as breathing, but I find it fascinating when you hear some would be new upcoming John Humphries launching into the sneering at the start of the interview to suddenly hit the contrast of the politicians polite, measured, responses. It sort of tends to trip the interviewer and listening public up – Its as though a barnum circus master has got the crowd fired up and petrified on the edge of their seats with a showmans build up to the hideous depraved monster from the jungles of westminster he’s about to unleash – then lifts the curtain with fan fair from a safe distance holding a whip at arms length to find a mild mannered Jacquie Smith clutching an 88 pence bath plug receipt.

  • Keith

    Agreed. Though i used to chuckle in the early days of Sky Sports when they really tried hard to make every game sound like an absolute classic “Southampton 0, Bolton 0, everything to play for here at a passionate Dell” (Cue footage of half empty stands and an old guy dropping a pasty).

  • james


    I agree with everything you say about the Newsnight coverage.

    The problem is, however, that Labour have been all too willing to use the media to create superficial and simplistic false impressions of their political opponents. Look at the ‘tory toff’ campaign in Crewe and Nantwich, which was basically intended to say – forget about the Tories’ policies, just take the message that they are all stupid upper class toffs. Labour created visual images that they knew the media would pick up and pass on unquestioningly.

    Yes, the media is often unfair, yes, something probably needs to be done to pull them into line, but don’t pretend that Labour hasn’t used their tendency and willingness to skew a story to their own advantage from time to time.

  • CPW

    AC, scenario: Darling hikes income tax to 50%. Hits you hard in the pocket. Do you a) not pay your TV license – i.e. no more Newsnight or b) get rid of your Sky subscription, and lose the wonderful football coverage?

  • Alina Palimaru

    Arnie, I agree with you on Fox News. FN is disgusting and they inflict horrible reporting on humanity.

  • Laura Payne

    Ali, as you know, journos only have two main interview weapons, sneering cynicism or constant interruption with Paxman and Humphrys being the devices’ archest exponents. With good interview training these techniques are easy to handle and can even be deflected to make the interviewer look crass.

    Trouble is getting on Tv today. BBC and most TV news teams are all obsessed with being commentator journalists and not reporters. Remember those days when we used to go out and find real facts? It’s got so ridiculous they spend most of their time interviewing each other to fill the 24/7 agenda as quasi experts rather than finding real experts. Instead we get now journo out in the field enjoying limelight in an ego-fuelled piece to camera, constantly quoting absent third parties.…‘well John I’ve just spoken to an eyewitness/ minister/company official/ who said….’ Eventually we will surely be asking in reply ‘How do we know you’ve spoken to them…’ ?????

    So when politicians finally make it on screen I wonder, with all the presentation training available out there, how they still get it so fundamentally wrong????

  • jonfish

    I take your point on the use of pictures on Newsnight, but I think the current crop of politicians – from both parties – are fundamentally to blame for the breakdown in trust between politicians and the public, not journalists.

    Charging pornography on expenses may be headline grabbing, but misses the point. It’s not the fact that Jacqui Smith “accidentally” charged two pay-per-view TV programmes to the taxpayer that annoys me. It’s her assumption that WE should be paying for the combined TV, Internet and phone package on her second home AT ALL!

    It’s that Alastair, and examples like it, that lead me to view most politicians with distrust, not the use of some pretty pictures by the BBC. If Jacqui Smith hadn’t done anything wrong in the first place, perhaps she would have been on Newsnight accompanied by some pretty pictures illustrating what a good job she was doing.

  • Catriona Smith

    I agree with every word, A. I think too, we’re losing a lot of decent folk to politics, who wouldn’t have the heart or the thick skin needed to survive the 24hr news jungle. Have the media turned against the ideology of Labour? Do they really want the Tories to win the election? Or,do they just want a change of the characters at the top so that a new soap opera can begin…

  • CPW

    The comments on this blog are a worry. They all seem to agree with what is written when what is doesn’t even begin to hold water. The fatuousness of the argument gives an intellectual mind nothing to get hold of. Perhaps that’s why all the simple ones are all nodding along complicity.

    Newsnight coverage and Sky football are incomparable on every level. They offer no analogies and for this reason this post doesnt find any. If you tuned in to find Richard Keys presenting the show with overbearing sense of football of football ennui, you’d tune out. That’s entertainment.

    Newsnight on the other hand cut their cloth to fit their coat as a public broadcaster. I imagine they imagine they are reflecting the public mood when they ‘spin’ their presentations.

    The number of people who have blandly concurred with this bland post is frightening. Not difficult to understand how demagogues find their audience. It’s all here. The most limp – though not the worst – of the Englishman’s dull complacency.

  • Mike Barlow

    All hail CPW, the new self-proclaimed demagogue of intellectual superiority; forget what you’ve heard about democracy, the CPW way is the new order.

    1st law: Forbid all other opinions.
    2nd law: Convince everyone you’re an intellectual
    3rd law: Fwap away to pictures of David Cameron, like there’s no tomorrow.

    Achtung CPW, the proof that a lone twat with a superiority complex is a danger to society and themselves is, sadly for your ego, already proven via Herr Hitler.

    I fear for our society with people like this around, I really do.


  • Liz Naish

    I heard John Mann (MP for Bassetlaw) the other day on Radio 5, gladly allowing the interviewer to survey his second home in London and his expenses claims. His flat seemed nothing more than basic and no doubt there are many other MP’s in a similar situation. Nevertheless it’s a shame so many other MP’s apparently turned down the opportunity to do the same. The media has undoubtedly played its part, but wouldn’t it be great to see a few more like John – MP’s with nothing to hide. Let’s hear more about them I say!