I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the interesting question of whether or not the former chief strategist to the President of the United States is too fringe a figure to be allowed to speak in public. A lot of very prominent people seem to think that Steve Bannon shouldn’t be given a platform. And among two venues to have recently invited him, The New Yorker promptly disinvited him from their festival under fire from political heavyweights including former ‘funny man’ Jim Carrey.
By contrast The Economist managed to hold firm, surviving the withdrawal of a British blogger and going ahead as planned with their live interview. The video of the resulting event is well worth watching.
Not because Steve Bannon says anything new, or anything he hasn’t said many times before. And certainly not because The Economist has its finger on any unfamiliar pulse. But rather because it is such a fascinating meeting of worlds.
Zanny Minton Beddoes herself could almost have been dreamed up by Bannon. She is his ideal foil. The Economist’s editor-in-chief is the epitome of a certain hectoring Davos type. From the moment she kicks off her interview she is as sharply rude as possible to her guest, making it clear to her audience from the get-go that her attitude towards Bannon is akin to that of someone who, having trodden in excrement, must perforce adopt some attitude towards its removal.
What makes this so grimly watchable is that Bannon merely has to phone it in. Zanny Minton Beddoes, on the other hand, appears to be fighting for her political, professional and social life. She won’t let Bannon get on a roll on anything. She won’t let him finish a sentence. She rebukes. She jabs. She hectors. It appears that to allow Bannon to make any point (let alone win it) would be to risk the total and utter death of Zanny Minton Beddoes. Henceforth she would be said to have given a platform to fascism. To have let it speak. And from there to have caused it. And look where that would lead us. While every last one of us was being herded onto cattle trucks, the one thing everyone would be in agreement on would be that the only reason the world had got into this mess was because of the unsatisfactory interviewing technique of Zanny Minton Beddoes.
Naturally her interview with David Miliband immediately following that with Bannon was a different affair altogether. David is not only allowed to roam at will, picking his subjects for discussion like a delegate at the break-out buffet. He is also allowed to give his judgement on what he has just heard and pass unchallenged judgement on the previous occupant of the stage. So we get all the Davos pabulum again. The ‘politics of hope’ versus the ‘politics of hate’. The ‘politics of answers’ versus the ‘politics of no-answers’. The politics of forwards versus the politics of backwards. Clearly Minton Beddoes finds all this not-remotely-loaded-for-the speaker’s-own-political-comfort chat much more to her liking. Indeed she appears to use the former Labour Foreign Secretary like an air-freshener to clear the stench left behind after that unfortunate episode with the excrement and her high heels.
Of course anyone not from the world of The Economist might look on this with a certain odium of their own. Why are these people still doing this? Why are they still calling out those names (‘populist’, ‘racist’, ‘far-right’) about opinions held by large tracts – and in many cases the majority – of the public across our continent? Why even now, all these years in, don’t they ever try to listen or learn anything – to adapt and nuance their own views in order to come up with better policy prescriptions of their own? Why the jabbing, the hectoring, the lecturing and deafness? In its own way The Economist demonstrated what has caused some of the movements it itself abhors. Because even when the Davos types present themselves as listening they immediately demonstrate that they are in fact just putting their fingers in their ears and stamping their high, and noticeably well-heeled shoes.