Sunday, October 31, 2004

Will Hutton and the Quality of the British Press

One of the great pleasures of academic life in Britain is tea in the faculty common room. An elderly lady rattles a huge urn of tea down the corridor everyday at 4: and then we all assemble for tea and biscuits. This institution is wholly unknown in the US--at least in any of the departments I've known. Indeed if they instituted this practice in my home department, it would, I am sure, cause havoc. We only get along, because we do not have to speak to each other.

Perhaps not surprisingly, since I am the "visiting Yank" I am constantly on the spot to explain aspects of American politics and make predictions about the election. Since a vast number of my fellow Americans are God fearing dopes--70 million of them apparently reject the doctrine of evolution--I fully expect Bush to win by a larger majority than the polls are currently registering. (When confronted by pollsters, most God fearing dopes do not, I suspect, wish to reveal themselves as such.) I was explaining this point over tea last week to my new colleague Fred (Reader in Peace Studies). Fred went on to observe that the cause of American stupidity was the low quality of the US press. I fully agreed that this was a contributing factor. Fred then, however, added the astonishing comment that the British press was generally of a high quality. Other than Martin Wolf and a couple of his colleagues on the FT, I can think of no even semi-intelligent British political or economic columnist. (For a similar view of the lowering quality of the British press, see Chris Brooke's post and the ensuing comments.) When pressed to name one, Fred came up with Will Hutton, author of one of the stupidest books I have read in a very long time. The World We're In. Fred was absolutely astonished--indeed, he took positive offense--when I told him that Hutton was an idiot who couldn't write. I was therefore quite delighted to read Will Hutton's column in the Observer today. Not only is the content of the column pretentious and uninformed, just take a look at the following paragraph. The man clearly cannot write.

This is the genius of the conservative position. It is a crusade fuelled by a never-ending tide of complaint that is compelled to set itself unachievable objectives in its battle to reduce women's rights and against the commercial ethic that so beleaguers religion but their non-achievement only proves the malevolent hegemony of the liberal elite and thus the correctness of the right's analysis.

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