The hereditary Hitchens, the dynastic Dimblebys and the continuous Corens: Media nepotism knows no end...
... and here's why it's a big problem.
|Mic Wright||Dec 4, 2020|
I’ve written about the British media’s addiction to nepotism a few times in this newsletter and specifically about individuals who have slipped into cosy positions on newspapers and in TV newsrooms thanks to their family connections. When I do, I tend to get a certain level of pushback, complaining that it’s the “sins of the fathers” argument and it has some merit. However, people brought up within a media milieu grow up with a perspective that is naturally narrowed and an experience that is unquestionably rarified. Nepotism passively makes journalism worse.
I did not grow up with a columnist for a father or a newspaper editor for a mother. I had to earn my commissions with no nod or wink to an old pal or ex-colleague, no easy way through the door thanks to the familiar name on my calling card. My perspective on the media is hugely influenced by having been outside it, elbowed my way in, and — to some extent — having slumped my way out of it. All of this colours my writing and I admit that freely. I have so many chips on my shoulder, it’s like I’ve been rolling around in a kebab shop storeroom.
But if you ask those writers, journalists, and columnists who have benefitted from nepotism and connections, they often deny vehemently that their perspective are at all affected by privilege. It is the more rarified version of the general journalistic claim that “no one tells me what to write”. The ‘big name from birth’ set cannot admit that the buttering up they have received their whole lives is precisely why the rest of us have to deal with a route to the top described as “the greasy pole” — they and their chums greased it.
In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx writes, “It is not the consciousness of people that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”
He goes on to expand on that thought:
"… definite individuals who are productively active in a definite way enter into these definite social and political relations. Empirical observations must in each separate instance bring out empirically, and without any mystification and speculation, the connection of the social and political structure with production. The social structure and the State are continually evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in their own or other people's imagination, but as they really are; i.e., as they are effective, produce materially, and are active under definite material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will.
As a form of social and psychic defence, the nepotistas tend to completely reject the notion that their connections have fed into their professional success and opinions. It’s understandable really: Few of us want to fess up to how many of our opinions come from our childhoods, but does say, Frederick Heffer, 26 — called upon this week by The Daily Telegraph to offer his prematurely tweedy opinions on the Eton ‘scandal’ — believe his flair secured him the gig? Face it: He’s a convenient half-pint of Heffer.
Perusing the cursed collection of articles recommended by the cow site, UnHerd, in its daily newsletter, my eye alighted on one name — Dan Hitchens. He’s editor of the Catholic Herald — appointed age 31 — and… the son of Peter Hitchens. A swift Google reveals that his cousin, Atonia, 27 — daughter of Christopher Hitchens and godless daughter of Salman Rushdie — is on staff at The New Yorker. But, of course, the connections of their famous (and famously feud having) fathers had nothing to do with these meteor-like careers and you’d be a snide and a fool to suggest otherwise. That one of them pushes hard-conservative (with a small ‘c’ positions) while the other writes sparky interventions for a great bastion of liberalism is also surely a coincidence.
The New Yorker @NewYorkerAnthony Scaramucci, Sebastian Gorka, and Sean Spicer used to be mouthpieces for the President. Now they’re mouthpieces for anyone who can pay them. https://t.co/WAX37bYDaH
Elsewhere in the modern British media, we have the columnists and presenters Giles Coren and Victoria Coren-Mitchell (leg-upped by their father Alan, who was a BBC radio mainstay and edited magazines including Punch), ITV News reporter Fred Dimbleby (son of David, nephew of Jonathan), sketchwriter Henry Deedes and columnist Sophia Money-Coutts (grandchildren of the former Telegraph editor Bill Deedes, son and niece of Telegraph director Jeremy Deedes) and writer Bella Mackie (daughter of former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and educationalist Lindsay Mackie, herself daughter of the late Baron Mackie of Benshie). That’s just a partial list.
Hitchens, D in his article for UnHerd delivers something that his father could easily have written — extrapolating wildly from the attempted cover-up around the bombing of Hiroshima to the state of the modern media, decrying the shiftless creatures who are journalists now, while clearly exempting himself from that criticism. If you stuck Hitchens, P’s byline on it, I’d have thought, ‘Yeah, sounds about right.’
Is any of this to say that the sons, daughters and other close relatives of heavyweight hacks shouldn’t follow them into the profession? Of course not. But when those successors quickly ascend to columnist slots and are anointed as editors, it is a problem. It further entrenches the justified belief that journalism is a ‘who you know’ profession and not a business where you earn your stripes honestly through graft, talent and application.
When mummy or daddy has a big picture byline and is one of the selling points for a particular newspaper or magazine, it’s a lot easier to get your foot in the door. When a nepotista-type denies that, they’re effectively telling the rest of us that they think we’re stupid. Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s an adult christening.