They shoot Ewoks, don't they? David Aaronovitch calls for regime change on Endor

... or rather, why columnists have to pretend that they are the oppressed and not the oppressors.

“The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He must dominate in his turn.”

The Rebel, Albert Camus

I first heard that quote at the end of the Manic Street Preachers’ brilliant non-album single The Masses Against The Classes, a record that begins with another quote, spoken by Noam Chomsky:

The country was founded on the principle that the primary role of government is to protect property from the majority… and so it remains.

The role of the Manics in introducing me to authors and concepts that school did not put in front of me cannot be overstated. The Holy Bible with its palimpsest of references brought me to Plath and Pinter before high school English deemed them understandable.

But the Manics believe and continue to believe that their fans — teenage or not — were capable of consuming all of that material. It’s the power of a group of auto-didacts getting access to a platform where they could advocate both for their love of Guns’n’Roses and Nye Bevan in equal measure.

Today’s newsletter is about platforms — earned and unearned — and what people in the media choose to do with them. It is in direct response to both the Harper’s letter, a cry for censorship and silence dressed up in the clothes of a free speech advocate, but also to a pair of spats I have had with the Times columnist and professionally bloviating buffoon David Aaronovitch (aha!, I can hear him cry, once again you resort to ad hominem!).

Because the British media is obsessed with class and class signifiers, I’m going to set out my stall and quickly summarise Aaronovitch’s route to a position in the almost unsackable class of name columnists. I went to Thetford Grammar school, followed by becoming the first person in my family to attend university when I read Education at Homerton College, Cambridge.

When I left Cambridge — after the full three years — with a 2:1, I started work in journalism at Pensions World magazine, before moving on to Stuff then Q then freelancing with further permanent positions at The Next Web, The Daily Telegraph, and the Web Summit, as well as some time in corporate life. My parents were sales reps when I was growing up, having met in the Royal Navy, where my dad served in the Falklands War, having joined the navy at 16.

David Aaronovitch is the son of the intellectual Sam Aaronovitch. His brothers are the actor Owen Aaronovitch and the excellent author and screenwriter Ben Aaronovitch. It is unquestionable that his parents produced a trio of successful boys who have gone on to great acclaim in their respective fields. However, David Aaronovitch has written often, both in columns and books, about his parents Marxism and that he was encouraged to “react to wealth with a puritanical pout.”

David Aaronovitch’s subsequent rejection of that position has led him to advocate very strongly on behalf of both capital and the status quo — a teenage rebellion that happened strikingly late and resulted in a very strong world view in favour of capitalism, bloody in tooth and claw (I’d say ‘red’ but David has strongly repudiated that colour whether it’s on Labour’s logo or just on someone’s tie).

Aaronovitch studied Modern History at Balliol College, Oxford for a short period (October 1973 to April 1974) before completing his studies at the Victoria University of Manchester. He secured a 2:1 in History. While he was still a student at Manchester, he appeared on University Challenge, where his team answered all the questions in the first round of their first edition with the names of Communist figures:

Manchester was banned from the show until 1979. Aaronovitch has subsequently repudiated the team’s behaviour as a childish and silly stunt. Active in the NUS, Aaronovitch initially identified as a Eurocommunist and has spent his entire career as a columnist acting as if a) everyone he disagrees with is some kind of crypto-communist and b) that he must continue to rhetorically murder his younger self. Aaronovitch, like so many others who have gone on to do huge damage to the UK, was president of the NUS. He served in that role from 1980 to 1982, elected on a Left Alliance ticket, which is so hilarious that it borders on painful.

The future Times columnist began his time in the media as a TV researcher and later producer on an ITV programme called Weekend World. He then moved to the BBC, becoming the founding editor of a current affairs show, On the Record. His move into print happened in 1995, just in time for the rise of New Labour, when he arrived at the still young Independent and Independent on Sunday, immediately becoming chief leader writer, TV critic, parliamentary sketch writer, and a regular columnist. The Independent, then a scrappy underdog rather than the plaything of an oligarch’s son, often required people to wear that many hats at once. Reporting was not one of Mr Aaronovitch’s hats, however. He commentates rather than participates.

David Aaronovitch moved to The Guardian and The Observer in 2003, again as a columnist and sometime feature writer. He wanted to appear in the paper’s main comment pages but was kept quarantined in the G2 supplement, allegedly at the behest of Seumas Milne, who was later to become Jeremy Corbyn’s chief advisor and press spokesman. In 2005, Aaronovitch began his fifteen years and counting stint at The Times, where he is one of the bigger beasts. He has also been a Jewish Chronicle columnist and a contributor to the New Statesman and New Humanist. His TV and radio credits are impressive and include multi-part documentaries for radio — The Norman Way (about ‘regime change’ in 1066) and The Blair Years (2007) being most notable.

One of Aaronovitch’s enduring choices as a columnist was his strong support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, by the so-called coalition of the willing, his view — which is arguable if not palatable — is that it was about liberating the Iraqis, and he has damped down the importance of the questions around whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and the US and UK vehemently claimed. No such weapons were found in any significant quantity in the aftermath of the war.

In 2003, Aaronovitch wrote:

If nothing is eventually found, I — as a supporter of the war — will never believe another thing that I am told by our government or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will antone else. The weapons had better be somewhere.

Narrator voice: Those weapons were not somewhere. They were nowhere. Nowhere to be seen. And nowhere to be found. David Aaronovitch, as he is required to do in order to continue his role as professionally ignorant while claiming to be professionally smart, has never stopped believing what governments tell him.

In September 2018, Aaronovitch called anyone who asks him about the column quoted above, “lamebrains.” It is fair, I suppose, given that Aaronovitch himself is highly qualified to understand the behaviour and motivations of a ‘lamebrain’ having committed himself to the role so thoroughly throughout his life and career.

In 2013, Aaronovitch became the chairman of the human rights organisation Index on Censorship, succeeding another gilded prince of the UK media, Jonathan Dimbleby, a member of a family that is required by an ancient prophecy to get plum jobs on the BBC. In the same year, Aaronovitch attacked the Labour leader Ed Miliband for not backing military action in Syria.

While there were reasons to intervene in Syria, it’s worth noting that Aaronovitch has never met a foreign policy problem he didn’t think could be solved with a lot of Cruise missiles and some ‘boots on the ground’. He is also clear that those ‘boots’ should not belong to him or his children.

In 2014, Aaronovitch had a public fight with Glenn Greenwald, who he called “a stilted writer of overlong, dishonest, and repetitive polemics.” It’s not clear if he was in proximity to a mirror when he typed those words. The same year he endorsed the position that Scotland remain a member of the United Kingdom (it did). In 2016, he passionately argued for the Remain cause in the Brexit referendum. He believes Brexit will be reversed when older voters — who tended to vote for the Leave side — have died off. His youthful support for ideologies that tend to look for the death of political opponents has softened, he just waits for them to cark it now.

So there you have the case. As I wrote in a previous episode:

David Aaronovitch, a man who was notoriously wrong on the Iraq War and has, in recent times, admitted online that he got scammed into buying a jacket for a hugely inflated price -- literally wallet inspected -- is considered an old wise man of British media. 

Which brings me to my latest encounter with the man, the myth, the mouth as big as the Blackwall Tunnel…

He was quote tweeting the actress who originated the role of Eliza Schuyler in Hamilton. This is what she had said:

It was beyond the wit of Aaronovitch to understand her point or to see the irony in putting himself forward as a bastion of free speech while encouraging a pile-on. His response to my quote tweet was to accuse me of piling on to him. The fact that he has many more followers than me and a privilege pulpit in The Times newspaper was not a factor in his argument. He believes he is a victim of the censorious left, despite the fact that the left has no government power, and very little say in the Labour Party now following the election of Sir Keir Starmer and the defenestration of anyone associated with Jeremy Corbyn’s time as Leader of the Opposition.

For columnists like Aaronovitch, an analysis of power dynamics is not helpful. It is important for them to be able to argue the contradictory position that they are both worth listening to and silenced at every turn, which they usually do from a widely publicised and highly paid column or the sofa of a TV politics programme, where they are given ample time to honk on about how no one listens. It may be, however, that they are simply angry that their own teenage children no longer want to listen to their incoherent ranting. That may explain their obsession with casting Owen Jones as a child, despite Owen, like me, being 36-years-old. I’ll also add that Aaronovitch, despite knowing that I’m a journalist and that I have been writing professionally as a reporter, opinion writer, and editor, for 15 years, called me ‘boy’.

After getting pretty relentlessly mocked for subsequent tweets, he has deleted them to make himself seem clever. Similar, in fact, to his continuing attempts to — psychically at least — delete his student self and that column where he tried to persuade us all that the Iraq War was good, actually.

Columnists like Aaronovitch like to think they are the Rebel Alliance, fighting the good fight against the forces of galactic evil. But they’re actually officers on the bridge of an Imperial Star Destroyer, hoping that Darth Vader (played in this production by Rupert Murdoch) doesn’t reach out and force choke them away from their comfortable life of dinner parties and deriding the young. David Aaronovitch wouldn’t party with the Ewoks. He wouldn’t even shoot them. He’d write a strongly-worded column about the importance of regime change on Endor.