Sometimes Dog Bites Man Really Is the Story – And We Keep Missing it

This is the transcript of The James Cameron Memorial Lecture entitled ‘Democratic Inbalance:Who Decides What’s News” delivered at City University in London on Monday February 22nd

AS a language student during the dying days of the Soviet Union I lived with a woman and her son in what was then Leningrad and now St. Petersburg. Every week day evening around 8.45pm my hostess would get herself ready to take their dog, a cocker spaniel called Redek, for a walk. Since I’m no lover of the cold and not a great lover of dogs I would watch with bemusement as she readied herself and Redek for the trip to the local park. By 8.55 she’d be out the door. You could set your watch by it.
Everybody has their routines and I thought little of it until Spring came and I decided, one night, to accompany her. I noted a slight urgency in her voice as she stood by the door, lead in hand, while I combed the flat for my hat. We made it out on time – though on time for what wasn’t exactly clear – and arrived at the park to find scores of dog owners already there. “What’s this?” I asked. “It looks like a meeting.”
“We call it the “dog hour”,” she explained. “It’s when the state news, Vremya, is on. We don’t want to listen to the propaganda so we walk our dogs.”

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The People v OJ Simpson: 21 years on, celebrity culture has changed but race issues have not

From left, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, and Cuba Gooding Jr as O J Simpson.

From left, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, and Cuba Gooding Jr as O J Simpson. Photograph: FX Networks/Courtesy Everet/RE

“You had a car that flew off a cliff,”€ one of OJ Simpson’€™s legal team says to his lead attorney in The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. “It’s missing two tyres, leaking oil and flung into a ravine, and yet somehow you drove us back up the hill.” Such is the level of disbelief within Simpson’s legal camp as it stumbles upon an inchoate defence it believes might be able to counter the overwhelming evidence incriminating their client.

At first sight, the notion that OJ Simpson’€™s trial might become a successful TV drama seems unlikely. Not only because we know how it ends – spoiler alert: OJ walks. But also because it’s a whodunnit in which we know who did it – there are precious few people out there who seriously believe Simpson, a football star turned actor, did not stab his former wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman to death.

But the drama – exquisitely acted with marquee names such as John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr and David Schwimmer – really resides in looking down at that broken car in the ravine and imagining how the hell anybody in their right mind thinks they are going to get it back up the hill in the full glare of the media. The answer can be summed up in one word: race.

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The fractures in America’€™s political landscape have been exposed

Hillary Clinton

‘Polls show Hillary Clinton, the establishment favourite, is an accomplished woman but a vulnerable candidate.’ Photograph: Craig Lassig/EPA

As a parent of small children I sometimes surprise myself with the things I find myself saying. “Don’t play in the tumble dryer.” “Stop putting food in your nose.” “Try not to poo on the carpet.” The individual words are all familiar. But prior to the actual moment they are spoken, the notion that I would ever gather them together into a single sentence seemed implausible. The shock resides in realising I am in a scenario in which they both make sense and are necessary.

Analysing the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses forces a similar double-take. For to explain why Donald Trump came second to Ted Cruz among Republicans or why Democrats handed Hillary Clinton the slimmest of victories against “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders first raises the question of how we got to a place that this time last year no one would have deemed possible.

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