As the newspaper industry, particularly the “quality” papers, continues its meltdown with Murdoch talking about charging for online content from News Corp in an attempt to protect the circulation of the Times and the Observer shedding half its supplements. While the material being lost is unlikely to be greatly missed, the most worrying observation in that article is that: “The soul of any paper is found in its Comment pages.” Admittedly, in itself, the comment is uncontroversial but it has tended to mean an increasing number of super-columnists who opine each week on the issue of the day, whether or not they know the first thing about the subject.
It would not be particuarly difficult to produce myriad examples of this, but to take the most recent one I’ve read, Catherine Bennett in yesterday’s Observer on England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup. Bennett herself is often an intelligent and insightful journalist, which just makes it more dispiriting when she puts her name to a piece like this. After a bit of laboured irony at the start, she writes off the World Cup itself as just an orgy of drunken loutishness it’d be “perverse” to want to host. The positive side of it, for example the possibility of arousing the sort of emotions displayed in Egypt after their 95th minute goal against Algeria on Saturday kept their qualifying hopes alive, is ignored. Presumably the joy of the Egyptian fans is all about the prospect of a 3 week bender in Cape Town.
Bennett then goes on to make some perfectly reasonable points about corruption within FIFA. But it’s clear that she’s just done a quick bit of research on the subject rather than it being something she actually knows about. If the Observer wanted a piece that would genuinely enlighten their readers on the dodgy dealings of Jack Warner and FIFA then they would surely have done better to commission someone like Andrew Jennings who actually has a genuine grasp of the topic. But sadly, the Observer seems to be under the thrall of the cult of the celebrity commentator.
Incidentally, I’m aware of the irony of criticising someone for opining on a variety of topics with laboured irony. But hypocrisy is the grease that makes the world go round.