The New Observer Media Comment Trial by media – the modern way. Dealing with conspiracies

Trial by media – the modern way. Dealing with conspiracies

The media personality Russell Brand has been accused by a C4 Dispatches programme of a number of rapes and sexual assaults as well as with certain things, such as a sexual relationship with a sixteen year old girl, which are not in fact illegal.

I don’t know anything about Russell Brand. He briefly appeared on my horizon many years ago when on a BBC radio show he, along with a co-presenter, made fun of Andrew Sachs who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Andrew Sachs was then an old man and I thought it was in bad taste. I’ve also noticed recently just by seeing the titles of the videos in YouTube that he is a critic of NATO’s war policy in Ukraine.

He may or not be guilty of rape. But – the media phenomenon is what I am interested in. This is, at this stage, entirely a case of trial by media. Anonymous accusers are accusing him in the media. But so far there has not even been a police complaint let alone a charge. This is trial by media. Already there are reports that his media business partners are dropping him. And it just happens; no one notices that we have moved from trial by the criminal justice system to trial by media. (But, the police are of course, lined up and have now launched a fishing expedition based off the anonymous media allegations).

This is commentary in the Guardian which I find interesting, because it touches on the question of “conspiracy theories”. The author writes: “Such a huge collective audience has already given Brand the support to push back against what he dismisses as “rather baroque attacks”. This is simply not true; Brand has not “dismissed” the allegations in the media. On the contrary he said they were “very serious”. He actually said that amidst a litany of allegations there were some rather baroque attacks but the core of the matter was some rather serious allegations. Guardian journalist Vanessa Thorpe is 100% misrepresenting the facts. You could call it lying. Why? Because that is the story she wants to tell – conspiracy theorist (non liberal) media personality thinks that rape is a casual matter.

The trend continues: “The powerful recent testimony from women in Britain and America is more than just a determined attempt to tell their story and shine light on the alleged grim past of an entertainer who became a popular comedy and film star,”. What is referred to as he “testimony” are in fact statements made to journalists, so better to say claims. The author is perhaps trying suggest that this is something like legal testimony. Notice “recent”. In fact, of course, the allegations are historical and thus raise the question; why were no complaints made at the time? But she tries to gloss that problem by a little trick; the “testimony” at least is “recent”. And, of course, as always, the claims are “powerful”. But anonymous.

The author continues:

His voice is listened to by English speakers across the world, where his charismatic and rebellious performances give credence to several prominent conspiracy theories, including the suggestions that the Covid pandemic, support for Ukraine and climate crisis concern are all masking the activities of shadowy global manipulators.

Now; I haven’t watched Russell Brand’s videos so I can’t comment in detail. But, I seem to recall that Brand raised doubts about Covid vaccines. He may have been saying the wildest things – e.g. the vaccines contained chips to monitor people. Or he may simply have been reporting the scientific facts. For example, that the AstraZeneca vaccine was associated with causing blood clots. The risk was low but significant. [1] Or, that Pfizer had a risk of causing heart problems in young men. [2] He may have noted that the vaccines were relatively ineffective at stopping transmission. He may have reported that the NIH (US National Health Institute) refuses to divulge to Senator Rand Paul whether staff at the NIH on vaccine approval committees are receiving royalties from pharmaceutical companies [3]. I have also seen that Brand is critical of the NATO war in Ukraine. Does that mean he is giving “credence to conspiracy theories”? I haven’t watched in detail and have no idea exactly what he is saying about Ukraine; but if he is simply being critical of the war that does not sound like a “conspiracy theory” to me.

internet pundits such as him and Tate, and in America, Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro, has become a serious challenge to public faith in careful journalism and in the more experienced, educated voices of comment. And that is exactly what was intended.

One would imagine that the Guardian author believes she is one of the more “experienced, educated voices of comment”. I have no idea if Brand is actually guilty (in a legal sense) of sexual assault and rape. I don’t know exactly what he says in his shows; his style doesn’t attract me and I don’t watch them. But, all the same, I can see here a mainstream commentator working up a story (distorting actual facts in the process) to undermine Brand, while claiming that he is a “conspiracy theorist” and contrasting him unfavourably with mainstream “experienced, educated” commentators. (Interestingly, the last bit about “educated” is surely very off message about how being snobbish about the proles is not inclusive?) These same “experienced, educated” commentators are perhaps the ones who, before the FBI said it was probable, for months told us that the idea that Covid originated in a lab was a “conspiracy theory” and who tell us that the Russian “invasion” of Ukraine was the result of Putin being an imperialist bent on territorial acquisition, (a narrative, which as Professor John Mearsheimer points out, suddenly popped into being in the mainstream media after February 24 2022 as if to cover up the fact that the attack was a response to NATO provocations).

Update – nasty and cynical propaganda

“What you may not know is that this happens in the context of the online safety bill, which is a piece of UK legislation that grants sweeping surveillance and censorship powers, and it’s a law that has already been passed.” [Russell Brand]

On Tuesday, the bill passed all its parliamentary stages but it has not received royal assent so is not yet UK law.

This is a small piece of text and you may say I am reading too much into it; but “the devil is in the detail”. The Guardian is quoting Russell Brand who, in a recent video piece, made a link between the current UK online safety bill and his case. The Guardian is sneakily suggesting that Brand has made a mistake, is saying something which is not quite true – the bill is not yet law, is in fact being (typically) misleading. This is a game; how likely is it that this bill is not going to get Royal Assent (a pure formality)? Zero. This shows us that the media, in this case the Guardian, is indeed out to get Brand. (I would add that the emphasis on Royal Assent also relates to another feature of the current media-control-system in the UK; the promotion of the Royal Family as rulers. I’ve commented on this before; there is a clear effort to promote the UK monarchy as actual rulers, not just a historical relic).

Another point which supports, in a way, Brand’s assertions. Over on The Independent there is a claim that in making the link between his case and the online safety bill, Brand is floating a “conspiracy theory”. But, in reality, this is a pretty reasonable suggestion; it would be entirely normal behaviour for large digital platforms to try to persuade the government they are capable of self-regulating in order to try to avoid regulation. In other words – the mainstream media is labelling valid criticism of themselves and other power structures as a “conspiracy theory” in order to shut it down.