My first reaction to the news that Noreena Hertz is to become ITV’s economics editor was: isn’t she slumming it? Others, though, have asked whether a leftie can be trusted to report economics impartially.
On this question, Ben is of course right to say that the answer is: yes. I’d add that being a Marxist is actually a qualification for the job, in two senses.
First, some of us Marxists – unlike many of our opponents – are not spittle-flecked fanatics. Instead, our Marxism arises from a cool-headed scepticism about whether capitalism really can maximally advance living standards and real freedom for all. Such scepticism is a virtue in any proper journalist. And it’s surely a vast improvement on the churnalism and unthinking deference to the rich and powerful that passes for most of journalism today.
Secondly, we Marxists know that we are in a minority, so we know which of our opinions aren’t mainstream. This makes us much more aware of potential biases in our own thinking, and so able to slough them off when necessary. By contrast, “mainstream” reporters might be more prone to groupthink and so pass off their own opinions as impartial fact.
In this context, the problem with Ms Hertz is that she’s NOT a Marxist. I fear instead there’s a danger that she’ll import bien-pensant Primrose Hill dinner party sentiments into her reporting.
Rather than ask: are Marxists fit to be impartial TV journalists – to which the answer is obviously yes – we should turn the question around and ask: Is TV journalism a fit job for any intelligent, sceptical person? I suspect not - at least in economics - for three reasons:
- Impartiality has come to mean not impartiality between economists but rather impartiality between politicians. This leads to systematic biases in reporting on subjects such as austerity, Brexit or immigration because the consensus of economists is not adequately conveyed.
- The news agenda, being set by politicians, is also biased. Non-problems such as “the nation’s finances” get attention whilst real economic issues such as low trend growth, the collapse in productivity growth and capture of the economy by the 1% are under-reported. I'm not sure how far one can fight this bias.
- High-profile reporters come under pressure from hysterical bigots. One of the big reasons why I work at the IC is that my readers – unlike those of newspapers – want good economics rather an echo chamber for their own neuroses.
It was pressures such as these that forced Paul Mason out of the industry. Perhaps, on reflection, my immediate reaction was right: the job is beneath Ms Hertz.