In June 2019, then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the UK and was recorded saying privately: “It could be that Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected. It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”
Compared to the extensive coverage of alleged Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, Pompeo’s remarks barely registered in the British media. I ask Corbyn why he thinks that is.
“We have a supine media in this country,” he tells me. “The British self-confidence of saying we’ve got the best media in the world, the best broadcasting in the world, the best democracy in the world. It’s nonsense, utter, complete nonsense. We have a media that’s supine, that self-censors, that accepts D-Notices, doesn’t challenge them, and the vast majority of the mainstream media haven’t lifted so much as a little finger in support or defence of Julian Assange.”
He adds: “And so the idea that we’ve got this brave British media that is always exposing the truth is utter nonsense. Even the liberal supposedly left-leaning papers like the Guardian, where are they on all of this? Nowhere. Where were they kicking off about Pompeo’s remarks? Nowhere. We obviously kicked off about it, protested…We were just told it was a private briefing…It wasn’t. It was a quite deliberate message.”
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The Guardian has long been viewed as the voice of the liberal-left in Britain, so it surprised many during the Corbyn leadership to see it act as one of the main media vehicles through which the campaign to bring him down was fought.
The paper was a key part of the “anti-semitism crisis” that engulfed Corbyn’s leadership. From 2016-19, the Guardian published 1,215 stories mentioning Labour and anti-semitism, an average of around one per day, according to a search on Factiva, the database of newspaper articles.
In the same period, the Guardian published just 194 articles mentioning the Conservative Party’s much more serious problem with Islamophobia. A YouGov poll in 2019, for example, found that nearly half of the Tory party membership would prefer not to have a Muslim prime minister.
The Guardian’s coverage of anti-semitism in Labour was suspiciously extensive, compared to the known extent of the problem in the party, and its focus on Corbyn personally suggested that the issue was being used politically.
The late Jewish anthropologist David Graeber commented after the 2019 election: “As for the Guardian, we will never forget that during the ‘Labour antisemitism controversy’, they beat even the Daily Mail to include the largest percentage of false statements, pretty much every one, mysteriously, an accidental error to Labour’s disadvantage”.
“I have absolutely no illusions in the Guardian, none whatsoever,” Corbyn tells me. “My mum brought me up to read the Guardian. She said, ‘It’s a good paper you can trust’. You can’t. After their treatment of me, I do not trust the Guardian.”
He continues: “There are good people who work in the Guardian, there are some brilliant writers in the Guardian, but as a paper, it’s a tool of the British establishment. It’s a mainstream establishment paper. So, as long as everybody on the left gets it clear: when you buy the Guardian, you’re buying an establishment paper”.