#Scumedia? There may be problems with journalism – but we need it more than ever

Suzanne Moore
Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Hello, #scumedia here. Being scummy, obviously, because while in the US, members of the press are being shot in the eye with rubber bullets or pinned down, beaten, teargassed and arrested for the crime of being black while reporting, and in the UK they are relentlessly abused for refusing to “move on”, I say: thank God for the press.

No, I am on not on the frontline. I have been in bunkers and in teargas and bribed my way out of trouble a few times, but I am a scaredy cat. Every day I thank those brave souls who walk into terrifying situations, whether they are war zones or east London hospitals.

Enough people tell me they don’t read the news. Enough people send me conspiracy videos. A doctor who isn’t a doctor but a quack chiropracter has worked it all out, apparently. The virus was made in China by Bill Gates and transmitted by 5G and the vaccine is a way of chipping us.

Broadly, the starting point of many conversations these days is that the mainstream media (MSM) lies. Journalists lie. The real truth, unsourced and uncorroborated, is a click or two away. You see, whatever I am telling you, the opposite is true. I have been hobbled by Succession’S Logan Roy; I am paid to make up any old rubbish. 

You don’t have to tell me that journalists are less trusted than estate agents. I know. Indeed, I would be happy enough if the next pointless government press briefing consisted of some hapless bullshit merchant, two scientists in straitjackets and some estate agents having a barbecue. It would be an improvement on the current parade of Zoom malfunctions.

The right hates “aggressive” questions; the left hates not being there to ask them. We know what Dominic Cummings thinks of the press. Terrific organisations such as Open Democracy have been banned. The MSM is bypassed. Press freedom in this country is being eroded. Reporters Without Borders has spoken of Downing Street’s “vindictive” response to media criticism. English PEN has complained of the government’s attempt to discredit certain news outlets. There is worse to come if this is not confronted.

We have watched a largely acquiescent American media. As Donald Trump sits in his darkened White House while America burns, he tweets: “The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS.”

Truly bad people reporting on another black person slaughtered in broad daylight? Truly sick people reporting on Covid death rates that are so high in black communities?

In the UK, journalists dare to doubt the meat puppet that is the prime minister, who claims that the government’s handling of coronavirus is a great success. People keep dying – but “move on”, there is nothing to see here. It’s only the #scumedia that won’t get back to “normal”. 

Distrust us all you like. Distrust me. I have worked for leftwing papers and rightwing papers and both have made me particularly uncomfortable in their closeness to the political parties. The systme of lobby journalism feels like a corrupt anachronism. The political and media classes have been way too close for way too long.

The new breed of activist/journalists is a response to that, but many of them were so locked into the Corbyn project that often activism came first, truth second and bullying not far behind. As much as these people claim to despise the MSM, they can’t turn down a TV slot or a column,which they now use to blame the media for Corbyn’s terrible defeat. 

Intentionally or not, they have fed straight into the fake news agenda. Of course they are right to critique the overwhelming rightwing bias and let a thousand flowers bloom and all that, but journalism is not straightforward activism.

One story may push everything forward but actual people … well, they are the problem. The raw material does not fit into narrow party politics – now less so than ever. They may not be interested in your ideas about how oppressed they are. They may not vote. They may have long seen through the system that all kinds of media prop up. The Westminster bubble supposedly burst after Brexit. Yeah, right. It floats above us now, untethered from reality. If 60,000 deaths won’t burst it, what will?

We know about the deaths, we know the US is on fire, because journalists tell us. And sometimes, because we cannot live only in end times, journalists tell us about clothes and restaurants and films and what moves them, because the media informs and the media entertains and the media is in trouble as we speak. We will come out of this crisis with fewer papers than when we went in. 

That may make you happy and you may find you get everything you need from YouTube and the bloke next door who knows for sure there is something in weed that cures corona. But one day, when there is no news and we really have “moved on”, you may find yourself missing something. What is being lost is what is in front of your eyes. There is still more to lose. Trump knows this for sure. So should you.

• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist