Sharyl Attkinson and hard evidence.

On 19 February Hillsdale College hosted a talk by Sharyl Attkinson. The talk was entitled Slanted Journalism and the 2020 Election. It is more than happenstance that in December she published a book called Slanted that currently boasts on Amazon a 5-star rating from nearly a thousand reviews. Five stars/ nearly a thousand/ three months: those, taken together, are three very sexy numbers. Let’s learn more.

They don’t give us the identity of the gentleman that introduces her. I have fished around and have a theory, but it’s not firm enough for me to commit to a name. Nevertheless I can say that it is a professionally delivered introduction. He reads it from a script, which is regrettable but understandable given the concentration of detail and not his subject. He has an attempt at humour via a dig at CNN, but in the absence of laughter (understandable so early in the proceedings) he adroitly throws the humour away. He’s good. He is also very tall, or Attkinson is very short, because while he towers above them the microphones almost hide Attkinson when she arrives to begin her speech at 1:30.

They later find her something to stand on, which is quite important given that she needs to see over the lectern to a slave-screen which displays to her the images being projected to the audience. She is too professional to crane around to look at the big screen herself: speakers who do that surrender a little of the audience’s focus each time.

So having established that he has many slides, let us also recognise that she has a script. These are both things that I generally deplore but I have to concede that her narrative route is a very tight one that would not easily forgive digression. (I sympathise, but her spontaneous answers during the Q&A are just as tight but now invigorated by the spontaneity.) Most importantly, her slides are not pretty pictures but hard evidence. Hard evidence is one of the prime thrusts of her message.

Hard journalism requires hard evidence. Without it, it ceases to be journalism but activism, cheap, sloppy propaganda. Attkinson’s case is that for several years evidence in U.S. political journalism has gone serially AWOL. The incidents she quotes, backed by hard evidence, are shaming; and she repeatedly points out that there are very many more in her book.

For my part I lay at the door of slanted journalism the blame for much of the stark political polarisation we see today. Readers or viewers who are uninterested or just too busy to probe further, will imbibe slanted or even mendacious reporting in the belief that it is true. Those who are less gullible, and take the trouble to drill to the raw data will be outraged by what the world is being fed, and will often over-react to compensate. Society then, rather than constructively reflecting and debating shades of grey, entrenches in black and white.

Journalists holding to the standards championed by Attkinson used to be the norm. They are now an endangered species.

Attkinson gives hard evidence.

Steve Bannon speaks.

A few days ago, the Oxford Union hosted a talk from Steve Bannon.

How many times have you seen film footage of Adolph Hitler making a speech? Same question re: Joseph Stalin: same question re: Mao Zedong. I fancy the three answers are likely to be, “many times”, “never”, “never”. Hitler is widely held to be the world’s most evil person in the 20th Century, whereas the other two still have substantial followings in their own countries and elsewhere. Hitler was diabolical, but in terms of the deaths he caused he was a non-starter compared with the other two. That for me is one of the strongest arguments against the No-Platform movement, because if someone really is evil the world and posterity need to hear from his own lips how evil. If they are no-platformed, doubt will remain.

Am I, with that paragraph, comparing Steve Bannon to people whose respective body-counts are in the tens of millions? No, I’m explaining why we should be keen to watch this speech.

He starts with an account of how on 18 September, 2008, in the Oval Office, the heads of the US Treasury and Goldman Sachs told the President, George W. Bush, that only an injection of one trillion dollars would save the world from economic collapse. That is a high-impact opening.

[Let’s take a moment to look at one trillion as a number. If you’d been counting one trillion dollar bills non-stop at one dollar a second, and had just finished, you’d have needed to start around 30,000 BC.]

Bannon speaks for a smidgeon under half-an-hour and the rest is questions. There are so many questions that in conscientiously answering them he over-runs his time and we learn that he misses his flight.

The speech is so important, as are the answers to the questions, that my critiquing seems impertinent, so I’ll keep it very brief.

I am delighted and not surprised that he speaks entirely without notes. His structure could be a little tidier, both to avoid repetition, therefore saving time, and to make his message(s) even more digestible for his audience.

During questions he ducks nothing, even welcoming the most confrontational. The only time he criticises a questioner is to tell him to stop reading his question and “speak from the heart”. I raise a cheer at that.

I congratulate the Oxford Union for this talk, as I did when they hosted Tommy Robinson. Their audience, both in the hall and on the internet, is grown-up enough to evaluate people on their own account, rather than being forced to rely on second-hand views in the media.

 

Katie Hopkins: stupidly brave.

“There’s stupid, there’s very stupid, and there’s Katie Hopkins”

Is that a precise quote? Probably not: it’s more likely to be a close paraphrase, but I have better things to do with my time than check it by sitting yet again through the speech from which it came. It was Tariq Ali at the Oxford Union.

I recently came across a speech that Katie Hopkins made. The posting simply said that the speech was ‘outstanding’ and received a standing ovation. Not where or when it was given. A little detective work persuades me it was at CPAC 2018. There are two clues: the date – late February 2018 – and the wallpaper behind her. There’s another February 2018 video of her delivering very much the same message but much more quietly and soberly at a panel discussion at CPAC, with very similar wallpaper behind her. That panel speech can be found here, but I want us to look now at Hopkins working an audience.

I’ve watched more speeches than is probably good for my health, but I’ve seldom if ever seen an audience made to laugh so loud so close to the beginning of a speech. Overt humour that early is a classic minefield, but Hopkins is evidently not phased by minefields, and the audience loves her for it.

It has to be said that Hopkins is very brave indeed, and for that I salute her. I also salute that, one by one, she targets and obliterates every PC icon in sight.

I have stated often and loud enough that I absolutely detest political correctness. Don’t ask me to itemise PC attitudes to which I object, because that’s a straw man. What I loathe is the concept itself. That anyone has the effrontery to declare any opinion ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ gives me spots before the eyes. Politics is opinion and therefore to be subject to civilised debate: it is never ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ except in totalitarian dictatorships, and they give me spots before the eyes also.

Hopkins claims absolute freedom of speech, and exercises that freedom with considerable abandon.

This is an astonishing speech! It’s constructed well, delivered well, and crammed full of things that we need to hear but which – appallingly, disgracefully and shamefully – have become dangerous to say or even think.

This is one brave woman.

Milo Yiannopoulos likes it two ways

At the Conway Hall in London on 16 August there was held the launch of the Young British Heritage Society. This society appears to be an attempt at an antidote to the National Union of Students. The NUS hasn’t impinged on my life for a decade or four, though I occasionally read their pronouncements in the press.  These indicate that an antidote of some sort might be a good idea.

As the launch-event keynote speaker they had booked the services of one whom they described as “the most fabulous supervillian on the internet”, Milo Yiannopoulos. I featured him on this blog not long ago, but not very satisfactorily. The speech in question dissolved into shambles as many members of the audience staged a noisy walk-out.

Milo has made himself into something of a phenomenon. With his carefully studied OTT campness, he has become a considerable cult-figure. In a sense he is using the same “ain’t I pretty!” tactic as a young boxer called Cassius Clay in the early sixties. It’s a very powerful device to polarise the public into loving or hating you and hence to inflate your box-office value.

But you have to be good enough to deliver. Clay (later to become Muhammad Ali) certainly delivered, and Milo in his field also delivers. He writes well, and has the gift of the gab. Think hind legs and donkeys. As well as being very thoroughly briefed and replete with data, he is remarkably quick-witted. You could put up the most feared interviewers in broadcasting and I wouldn’t back them against him, because whether by accident or design he is possessed of one particular characteristic which is devastating. I may return to that later.

None of the foregoing necessarily makes him a good public speaker, even though he does a lot of it. Let’s have a look.

It’s a tiny bit more than an hour long, one third speech and two thirds Q&A. I’ve watched it all, several times, and now I have both bouquets and brickbats to bestow. Let’s get the brickbats over…

The first third is the weakest. During the 23rd minute he begins Q&A, and at that moment this thing takes off. I mean it goes into orbit. I mentioned earlier how good he is in interviews, so we should hardly be surprised that two-way conversational traffic is his comfort zone – even if he’s the one doing all the talking. Questions are mother’s milk to him.

Preceding the Q&A is a speech. That is one-way traffic; and comparatively it’s clunky as hell. He’s using many of the same modules as during the Q&A, but the bridges between them are non-existent. The reason is that he apparently believes, as far too many do, that the substitute for being asked questions is using a bloody script. Will they never learn!

Also, for one who makes many speeches, his audience-handling is startlingly inept. Too often when one of his outrageous statements triggers a laugh he fails to capitalise. This is sometimes because the laugh is spontaneous and surprises him. The set-piece humour is too contrived and seldom works. Let’s quickly move to the bouquets…

Dip at random into the Q&A and you’ll get the impression is that here’s someone who loves the sound of his voice so much that he just gabbles uncontrollably. Completely deceptive. His answers are actually very disciplined and tight. Consider this statistic. The last 44 minutes end in a six minute peroration (it’s very good), and the previous 38 minutes contain 12 questions and their answers.  Allow ten seconds for each question, and the average answer therefore takes three minutes. Each is laden with hilarious and inevitably outrageous anecdotage, yet still provides its serious answer. The man is brilliant.

He just needs to learn how to make speeches.