Nigel Farage: The Media’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
“I think Farage is certainly a xenophobe”, declared Danny Finklestein, Executive Editor of The Times, “he is however a game changing politician. I don’t defend him, I find his influence depressing but it’s clearly there.”
This has echoed several embarrassed Times employees’ defence of the decision to name Nigel Farage “Briton of The Year”. It is observation, they claim, reflection. It is not endorsement. This is misleading in two ways.
First, The Times is well aware of its brand and how it can be used. The editorial explaining the decision is nuanced (actually apologetic might be a more accurate description, as if somehow the edict came from higher up and they were left to rationalise it ex post facto). But only a fraction of the public will read it behind their paywall. What most people will take away is the title “The Times Briton of The Year”.
It sounds unequivocally like an accolade and all the nuanced editorials in the world cannot make it sound like observation or reflection. It also plays directly into a nationalist agenda. Nigel Farage understands this. “Despite all,” he crowed on twitter, “The Times has named me Briton of the year. Attacks aside, I am grateful. Thank you.” Despite all, attacks aside, even an institution as august as The Times had to hand it to him.
So, no, Danny. Only the most clueless schoolboy would claim to be unaware of the halo effect of plastering your publication’s name and the words “Briton of The Year” next to the name of someone you acknowledge as a xenophobe. And then have the nerve to tweet #hatersgonnahate to people criticising you.
Second, and more important, I despise the utter denial of responsibility their rationale entails. Nigel Farage was made influential by print and TV media which for far too long viewed him as (a) an easy way to sell papers/boost viewing figures; (b) a cheap way to add frisson to dull political analysis by complacent commentators who dare not ask difficult questions; and (c) a way to blackmail the Tory party into Euroscepticism.
Farage did not become magically influential by a wave of the Influence Fairy’s wand. You created him, you sensationalised him and, with this award, you continue to do so. It is the equivalent of the BBC anointing him “Television Personality of the Year” on the strength of his many Question Time and Daily Politics appearances – the BBC’s doing in the first place. For years TV, radio and print aggrandised him beyond what any reasonable person thought he merited, only to then eventually turn around and say: “See? We told you he was influential.”
Nigel Farage is the media’s self-fulfilling prophecy.