The Problem Podcast
London Edition: Satire in the Age of Murdoch and Trump
Bloody hell! Jon is in London to talk about populism. Turns out it’s not unique to America! Jon is joined by Ian Hislop, editor of the satirical current affairs publication Private Eye Magazine, to discuss the reign of Rupert Murdoch, the economic consequences of a government run by lunatics, and the explicitly corrupt yet unbeatable right-wing propaganda machine.
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London Edition: Satire in the Age of Murdoch and Trump
Ep. 229 Final Transcript
Jon: Normally I do this from my house, and it’s, I have my computer.
Jon: And so the fact that we have cameras here is —
Ian: Yeah. No, no. I was warned about the cameras.
Jon: Ready to go? You’ll have to excuse me, I have a bit of jet lag. I was supposed to take melatonin and I think it might have been opium. So if the brain isn’t working to the same extent, just sync up the album “Dark Side of the Moon,” put on your headphones. And all of this will make sense.
Jon: Hello! Welcome to the podcast. It’s “The Problem” with me, Jon Stewart. We’re excited. The Apple TV+ show is back. Our first episode was last week, it was guns and crime and — oh did I mention we’re in London? I’m in, we’re in London right now. This is a special podcast. We’re doing it from the offices of the esteemed satirical magazine private eye. And, so I am not in my usual super weird looking office. We are gonna be talking to Ian Hislop today about his running of Private Eye magazine, British Politics. So it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be an exciting podcast for all of us and we’ll be running down everything from Brexit to Murdoch. And we’ll probably just stop there because that could take up some time. Welcome!
Ian: Thank you.
Jon: This is thrilling. First of all, for me it’s thrilling to be here. We’re in the offices of Private Eye, which is legendary. A legendary satirical magazine. Don’t — I see the look on your face. [IAN LAUGHS] The look on Ian Hislop’s face is one that says, “Please, sir, do not praise me.”
Jon: “For I shall not accept your praise,” but accept it. You my friend. It’s such an honor to meet you. Such a pleasure to meet you. comedian, satirist cultural commentator, prize fighter, which I was surprised to find out.
Ian: Yep, good. [IAN LAUGHS]
Jon: Middleweight champion of the world. Didn’t realize that was in there.
Ian: Brain surgeon.
Jon: First violinist? [IAN LAUGHS] What? Ian? uh, thank you for —
Ian: Yeah, that’s better. I prefer the jokes.
Jon: Yes, and I apologize to you because my brain is not quite functioning. I flew in last night and, do you take melatonin to sleep ever?
Ian: Um, no.
Jon: How do you — what do you take?
Ian: Usually legal action. [JON LAUGHS] It’s a treat.
Jon: Speaking of legal action, sir. I know that Rupert Murdoch has tried desperately to ruin your country and he’s ruining ours —
Jon: — at present. How do we legally stop him and I mean, legally.
Ian: Yeah, I don’t think you can.
Ian: I mean, there are monopoly laws, which I dunno whether they work, in the US, they didn’t really work here.
Ian: We tried a bit of that. There was cross-party support. It didn’t really work under our prime minister, Tony Blair. In the end, he decided it was better to sub with the devil. So he went and met Murdoch.
Ian: And he ended up in a compromise. I think it’s up to the rest of us just to challenge it. I mean, Murdoch is trying to set up at the moment he has a new television station in Britain, which is meant to be like Fox News.
Ian: Yeah. Which is called, I think it’s called TalkTV. And it stars and again you can — stars is the word, Piers Morgan.
Jon: No, I’m not familiar with that name.
Ian: No. [JON LAUGHS] And nor with the use of the word star. So he’s the lead on this, but I mean, happily for all of us here it’s terrific flop and no one’s watching.
Jon: So that’s how they start. But as a little bit of background, so there was a scandal in 2011, where and it’s hard to even fathom sort of the depths of human depravity that they went to, but ultimately it was the News of the World and they hacked into the phones of people who —
Jon: — had died.
Jon: And the revelation that came out of it was obviously the closeness of Rupert Murdoch to Conservative MPs into the —
Jon: — the Tories. The same thing is happening again with, are you familiar with this Dominion lawsuit in?
Ian: Yeah, yeah. I mean, from our point of view, this is a continuation of the Trump assault on reality.
Ian: Um, which is essentially things that are quite obviously true, you say aren’t true —
Ian: — and things that are quite obviously not true, you say are true. I mean, it is an attempt to stop people, having any connection to the real world.
Ian: And when we watch from here, Fox News or I mean, you know, mainstream news with those people on it, it’s difficult to believe. And often in Britain, we feel we’re about five years behind the states. So you got Trump.
Ian: Then we got Boris Johnson.
Ian: Uh, you know, it’s a diminished version, but it’s the same playbook.
Ian: And we get worried that we will end up in a world where it doesn’t matter if you’re found out literally where you can come on, and Boris Johnson has a, I mean, he has been found out, he was removed from office.
Ian: Which is very good news.
Jon: But they got Capone — they got Capone on taxes. I mean, he was removed from office, from having parties, you know, for having —
Ian: He wasn’t actually, he, they, again, this is part of the narrative —
Ian: — everyone must remember. He was removed from office because all his government resigned after he appointed a man who was a known groper [JON LAUGHS] of young male assistants, and he appointed him to a post in government.
Ian: And then he sent out his ministers to say, “No, no, I had no idea about him.” But actually he did.
Jon: He did know.
Ian: Because his name was, um, Pincher. And he called him “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature.” You see, that’s knowledge. He did know about him and he appointed him. So everybody in his cabinet, you know, more or less from the top down, but apart from the lunatics, sent letters saying, “I, I can’t work with you. You don’t tell the truth. You have no moral compass. You have no ethics.”
Jon: Yeah. That’s never been, but can I tell you what a pleasure it is that British corruption is still so clever. I mean, Pincher by name, Pincher by nature.
Ian: At least it’s a joke.
Jon: At least it’s, you have to respect the witticisms of the corruption.
Ian: Yeah. I mean, trouble is about Boris Johnson. We lost our sense of humor a while back. [JON LAUGHS]
Jon: It’s no longer the wild hair and the zip lining and getting stuck in the middle — that doesn’t thrill in the way that it used to.
Ian: No, it’s him coming up and saying, “look, I told you you couldn’t visit your grandmother in the care home when she’s dying but me, I was pissed at a party.” [JON LAUGHS] “It’s great. You do what I say, but me —”
Jon: “I don’t have to do any —”
Ian: “Don’t apply to me.”
Jon: That’s right. We’ve got the same thing working in the States with, you know, when they were doing the lockdowns, you know, the, the sort of famous one is Gavin Newsom going to French Laundry, which is this beautiful restaurant in the middle of everything you know.
Ian: Yeah and it gets people really angry and people are still angry here.
Ian: If you, we’ve got a scandal blowing after the moment the then health secretary, um, was, he literally was caught on a CCTV camera in his office snogging his assistant. He was married, obviously. Conservative, you know, tradition in this country.
Jon: No, it is.
Ian: So he was snogging his assistant and in fact groping her bum. He was caught on CCTV. This is when we were meant to be observing social distancing. Six foot. Like he wasn’t six foot away, he had his tongue down her throat. Um —
Jon: Now —
Ian: — and he’d appointed this woman, I hate to interrupt you, but I just, you know, I’m on a roll. He appointed —
Ian: — this woman because he’d fancied her when they were at college. And she always thought he was a bit of a geek, but when he became in the government, [JON LAUGHS] he appointed her to his own team and then got off with her. And the rest of us are thinking, we are wondering whether we can go outside and have a cup of tea, or whether we have to say we’re exercising or whether the police will move us on. And you are just groping people in your office?
Jon: Yes. Now—
Ian: It does get you quite annoyed.
Jon: — but to be fair —
Ian: I don’t want to be fair for a minute. [IAN LAUGHS]
Jon: — in the early days of COVID, that was how they tested. [IAN LAUGHS] The before, they could swab.
Jon: You had to use your tongue.
Ian: Yeah. It was an oral test. [IAN LAUGHS]
Jon: And there had — that’s, that’s exactly right. And so they would just look if you could collect from the back of the tonsil.
Jon: Uh, through the tongue.
Ian: Everyone was learning as they went along.
Jon: But I want to ask you about this because as somebody who’s fought this —
Jon: — for your adult life, this, this idea of public piety and private perversity and corruption and all these different elements. I think the most difficult thing for me to understand as someone who got into the business of comedy, the idea was always the fable of the emperor has no clothes.
Jon: And you always thought, you know what to be that child who sees things that are obvious that the grownups are pretending isn’t there, and to call it out.
Jon: And you always imagine in the calling out that the crowd says, “My God, the veil has been lifted.”
Jon: And what you never thought is that you would call it out so then everyone would just continue the farce naked. The emperor has no clothes and they’d go like, “Yeah, but —”
Ian: Yeah. Or —
Jon: “It’s OK.”
Ian: — or worse half the crowd’s sake. “No, he’s got clothes on.”
Jon: “He’s got clothes on.”
Ian: “I can see the clothes.”
Jon: Or, “Oh, he’s got clothes on and you’re a pedophile.”
Jon: You know, it’s now —
Ian: And it’s a conspiracy. “I mean, if, if you knew what I knew —”
Jon: That’s right.
Ian: “If you’d sat in your bedroom and read this blog, which isn’t true.”
Ian: “You would know.”
Ian: “What I know.”
Ian: “As a person who sits in his bedroom and reads drivel on the internet —”
Ian: “You would know that he has actually got clothes on,” but he hasn’t, he really hasn’t got clothes on.
Jon: That’s right.
Ian: That’s the worst bit of getting to this stage.
Ian: It’s small boy, you, me, childish sense of humor, thinking he’s got no clothes on. I’ll point him out. The emperor in the fable realizes that he’s made a fool of himself.
Ian: And he doesn’t have any clothes on. Nowadays, the emperor is Trump, the emperor is Boris. He says, “No, I have got clothes on. Um, and these machines, um, that you are seeing through, have made the clothes invalid.” I mean, it’s just, it is mad.
Jon: It’s madness.
Ian: It is mad. And the only thing that seems to work anymore and it worked here was repetition.
Jon: Being as tenacious as, as that side.
Ian: If you say it often enough —
Ian: — at a certain point for us, Boris Johnson, he’d always been a liar, but he became a liability. And at that point, his own party thought, “No, we’ve had enough of you now.”
Ian: Um, I think there was a moment when there was elements in the Republican party that began to think “We might do better with someone else.” Now, I don’t know if someone else is gonna be worse.
Ian: But, um, you can tell me that, but at least there is —
Jon: I’ve got some bad news.
Jon: How, how many years behind us are you?
Ian: About five.
Jon: OK. So you got about three and a half more years left and then it all is gonna fall through. You know, Trump is such an outsized figure.
Jon: But the groundwork for Trump is really been laid in our country for the past 40 or 50 years.
Jon: And it is that the right wing, very explicitly decided and this is in the 70s and 80s after Nixon was taken down, and Roger Ailes who ran Fox News for a long time was Nixon’s advisor. They explicitly stated, “We need to control the narrative so that what happened in Nixon could never happen again to another Republican.” And they built parallel structures of authority in news in institutions like universities in think tanks almost to shift to this other track, this kind of Potemkin village, the facade that they could build on the side. But you don’t have that here.
Ian: No. Um, there are attempts to set it up, but we don’t have it yet. We do have a very right-wing press at the moment.
Ian: I mean, more so they have shifted um to the right and they’ve become less representative, I think, of the electorate. But more representative of this rump of a conservative party, which we have left.
Ian: But we do have the BBC, which obviously our government hates. I mean, all governments hate the BBC. The BBC is a sort of national broadcaster. It’s independent, but funded by the license fee. So all governments say “The BBC is biased against us.”
Ian: Which they aren’t, but they are critical of them.
Ian: And criticism, as you know, governments don’t want that.
Jon: No. It’s a terrible thing.
Ian: And again, following the Trumpian model, you know, they have done it fairly explicitly, have said, “We must get rid of the BBC because, it’s not allowing you real news.”
Ian: And by real they mean fake, obviously.
Ian: “Uh, they’re not allowing us to pedal a narrative, which isn’t true.” And it was certainly true during lockdown. and there are a number of, you know, though, the anti-vaxxers were out, there’s a sort of group of lunatic conspiracy theories, which used to be on the fringe of the party.
Jon: That’s right.
Ian: And they’re now in the middle of the party and the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph in particular have taken up a very extreme position, which is new for us.
Ian: So the controlling of the sensible narrative is getting more difficult and they’re just indications that with the GB News, which is another attempt to be Fox News, and they’ve employed most of the people who were thrown out of the last government. So you’ve got Jacob Rees-Mogg on there and Nadine Dorries. These are names that don’t mean anything —
Jon: So you’re beginning now that cycle of government to media.
Jon: And, that revolving door where they go into government to ruin everybody’s lives and then get a pretty nice payday at a media institute or a media network.
Ian: And then they go —
Ian: — live on television and say, “I was right all along.”
Ian: And you’re thinking, “No, I do remember the bit where you weren’t right at all.”
Ian: You were very right wing.
Jon: “And we’ve got it on tape and we’re gonna show it to you.”
Jon: “And that’s still not going to do it.”
Jon: The difficulty sometimes is that the legacy media or the mainstream media as they call it, don’t do themselves any favors by also falling prey to sensationalism. What happened in the United States was the media finally met an entity as narcissistic as they are.
Jon: And that’s Trump. And so they found in him this natural enemy and they took the bait. And so their behavior during the Trump years really was one of, “OK, we are your enemy and we are your foe, and we are going to behave in that manner.” And they lost some perspective, which gives fuel to those conspiracy theories.
Jon: Because all you need is a little bit of a window opening.
Ian: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and that is the time to be cautious. And I think Trump’s gift was, he managed to suggest that criticizing him was criticizing the general public —
Ian: — was criticizing ordinary Americans.
Ian: And in this country, it’s for people like myself to say, “Well, you would think that cuz you’re very badly educated, and you haven’t thought about it as much as I have.” [JON LAUGHS] I mean, that won’t do.
Ian: We know that. You don’t defeat populist arguments by telling people they’re stupid.
Ian: And we had this particularly over Brexit, which is Britain leaving the EU, which I thought at the time and still think, and now opinion polls have come around to our point of view that that was a terrible, terrible era. It was an outbreak of sort of Trumpian nationalism of —
Ian: — of Little England isolationism of the type that —
Ian: — you know, is pretty current throughout the world at the moment. And we thought we were above that and we found we weren’t. It came and, you know, it hit Britain in just the same way as it hit elsewhere. And this was sort of people thinking “You don’t care about us, you don’t care about the working class. You are extremely elite and the mainstream media is in league with you.” Now I’ve made a number of documentaries about fake news and what interests me is the first person to use the phrase “mainstream media” was Joseph Goebbels.
Jon: That’s not so!
Ian: It is so.
Ian: And he, in one of his propaganda sheets said “It’s very important that you don’t read the mainstream media ’cause they’ll tell you lies.” You must read the truth.” i.e. The ramblings of his boss and his associated work. And you do have to watch this. This is a very, very well established technique of fascists, is to tell you “Don’t read this stuff.”
Ian: “Read our stuff.”
Jon: It’s such a complicated mix because this move to populism, which is so now taken hold in, and you see it now in France —
Ian: In France, in Italy.
Jon: France, and Italy and all these other places. In some ways, it’s hard not to connect it to the actions of the United States and the destabilizing, first of all, of globalization and corporations sort of manufacturing bases moving out of Britain and the United States and moving to places where they could pay people nothing. And, it’s sort of a colonialism-lite where we try and establish supply lines without having to use the army.
Jon: And the destabilization of the Middle East, and sort of driving that refugee migration and all that, and have we in our desire to spread democracy and light, I don’t know if you know this but the United States is a shining city on a hill.
Ian: Yeah, yeah. No, no, I did read that somewhere.
Jon: The United States is a beacon of the world.
Jon: And we remain —
Jon: By the way, we are —
Ian: — desirous to believe that. But we’re aware of —
Ian: — its foreign policy faults as well as our own. But there is, I think, you know, the United States may well wanna beat itself up, but Europe can equally do the same. There was a failure in 10-20 years of globalization and internationalism of failing to consider the worst off sections of your own population.
Ian: So everything looked great. This is good. We all believe in the ideas. Ever greater union, all our problems need to be solved collectively. No one’s gonna solve, you know, global warming through nationalism. It isn’t gonna happen.
Ian: You know, smaller the nation —
Jon: Right but it’s in the pursuit of cheap t-shirts —
Ian: Yeah. All of this. But also in pursuit of a sort of — an attempt to get some sort of control over the little bits of your life left. So in Britain, the entire Brexit movement was, “Let’s get back control.”
Jon: Mm-hmm. A nostalgia.
Ian: Whatever that means.
Ian: I mean, it was a desire to control —
Jon: Make Britain Great Again.
Ian: Yeah. I mean, again, we didn’t go that far cause we can’t really face that sort of overstatement [LAUGHTER].We leave that to America.
Ian: But it —
Jon: The humble nature of your country is what saves it.
Ian: It’s humble in its desire to be, you know, the most modest nation on Earth.
Ian: We are very proud of our humbleness.
Ian: But yes, I accept there is a responsibility for this outbreak of populism. But when it arrives to merely go with it and not to resist it seems to me —
Jon: You have to resist it.
Ian: — a double failing. So for the elites to say, “Oh, we just, it’s all, it’s us. It’s terrible.”
Ian: “We should have done this earlier.” Well, you gotta do it now.
Jon: Are you seeing it now as the results of it are not the blossoming of the — what they remembered to be the time of greatness? Is that what has taken some of the steam out of it?
Ian: What’s taken the steam out of Brexit is, it was a terrible idea. [JON LAUGHS] And it’s —
Jon: Executed badly.
Ian: No. And it’s not an idea you can execute well. It’s very simple.
Jon: Right, right.
Ian: And —
Jon: Rishi Sunak, hasn’t he now fixed it? I was under the impression that the new Prime Minister, and by the way, the idea to just rotate them every three months, I think is something that will catch on everywhere else.
Ian: Yeah. As long as during the three months where they’re in charge, they don’t lose you £30 billion. [JON LAUGHS] No, now we’ve tried out the total free market lunatic.
Ian: Uh, that didn’t go so well.
Jon: I, I thought that was my, my favorite thing ever was when Liz Truss came in and said, “I believe inflation is terrible, so we’re gonna go with austerity and we’re going to cut taxes —
Jon: — for the rich,” and I thought, well that’s like, it’s like taking Ambien and cocaine and thinking —
Ian: “It’s gonna go.”
Jon: “It’s all gonna even out, right? This’ll be fine.”
Ian: I mean, and it was a case of literally, I mean, this is why it was a very good moment for us, and you haven’t had the states, so I think we might be ahead of you here.
Ian: We had someone who literally did student politics and got into power, sacked everyone. She sacked the civil servants at the treasury, who normally are the adults who say, “You really can’t do this. This will be terrible.”
Jon: The guardrails were gone.
Ian: Yeah. Everything gone. And she did it. And then she said, “I was defeated by the left-wing economic establishment.” [JON LAUGHS] Now, I dunno if you’ve met any left-wing hedge funders or deeply socialist —
Ian: — equity traders.
Ian: We don’t have any in this country.
Ian: The financial markets, the people she loved, the people that the conservative party worship said, “You’re mad, we’re gonna bankrupt the country.” And literally the treasurer ended up saying, “We can’t borrow any money because no one will lend it to us.” [JON LAUGHS] I dunno if anyone’s ever said this to you that governments have to borrow money from other people.
Jon: But isn’t that what Russian oligarchs are for?
Jon: Won’t they come in and say, “How about we do this? We’ll just buy up Portobello Road.”
Jon: “And that should give you enough —
Jon: — to get you through the next three months.”
Ian: No, it just, even the oligarchs weren’t very —
Jon: They didn’t wanna invest in it.
Ian: No. If people think you are run by lunatics, they won’t lend you any money.
Ian: And that becomes a problem. [JON LAUGHS]
Ian: And then —
Jon: Who knows what happens to interest rates.
Ian: Yeah. Well anyway, I mean she was removed within, you know.
Ian: We have a newspaper here called, The Daily Star, which had a wonderful, they bought a lettuce and they said, “Will the lettuce last longer than Liz Truss,” [JON LAUGHS] Which was a very, very good joke. And the lettuce was fine. She was out.
Jon: It ended up being OK.
Ian: Yeah. The lettuce is Prime Minister. [LAUGHTER] That’s coming up. Anyway, so we got, an adult who immediately, you know, reversed everything that she’d done.
Ian: Um, and then the market stabilized and then we started back where we were, but minus £30 billion quid, which is quite a lot of money.
Jon: Well, they’ve even said, I think we were looking at the IMF said that “The economy in Britain will contract or perform worse than Russia even this year.”
Jon: And so have you thought about invading anybody? [IAN LAUGHS] Have you thought about, is there anybody who you’ve got your eye on?
Ian: Cornwall? [JON LAUGHS] No. I — we, we’re short of options. We really are.
Jon: That’s the end of it. I wonder if, you know, you’ve spent your whole life, you know, looking at the difference between what these public figures say and what’s going on in the back room.
Jon: And now we’re starting to see from this Dominion lawsuit in the United States, the emails from the backroom. And it is explicitly exactly what you thought it was.
Jon: In the way that you probably found during the news of the world.
Ian: Yeah. And also, I mean, recently we are having a cache of WhatsApp group messages exchanged during government has been made public.
Jon: Oh, really?
Ian: There’s a leak of the Health Secretary and the then Prime Minister during lockdown and Private Eye —
Jon: About what they were doing?
Ian: Yeah. Literally their WhatsApp group. Why they were taking certain measures, what they were saying about each other. Um, there’s this —
Jon: Oh, dear God.
Ian: Yeah. There’s this – there’s literally a WhatsApp group where various aides are saying to each other, “This story about the Prime Minister that he’s putting out has got some holes in it. Literally they’re saying “It’s got some holes in it” and you are thinking “That means he’s lying, which is what we said all along.”
Ian: But Private Eye, every week we run a fake WhatsApp group, of the Prime Minister. [JON LAUGHS] Um, and I’ve been looking at it recently thinking we didn’t go far enough.
Ian: You know, we just literally didn’t push the jokes because they’re worse than you think. Boris Johnson well enough is Chief Scientific Advisor. Is trying to explain to him the difference between a percentage and a probability.
Jon: Oh, dear Lord.
Ian: This is during a Covid outbreak, and, Boris, he doesn’t get it. I mean, you know, he read classics. [JON LAUGHS] Clearly —
Jon: He wanted to talk Homer.
Ian: But basic maths is good. I think, with your leader.
Jon: It can be useful.
Ian: It can be useful
Jon: At certain times. But it is when you are confronted with the idea that it is as explicitly corrupt as what you thought it was.
Jon: Is there any accountability? I think what’s so lacking in, certainly in American life,
Jon: Is the sense that when there is that corruption that’s so explicit that there is some measure of accountability that can be taken.
Jon: Which is what’s been so difficult to get a handle on.
Ian: Yeah. Well, I think it’s still better here. I mean, we do, we had a public inquiry. We’ve got another one coming up.
Ian: The Prime Minister was censored, he was removed. We’ve got another standards committee coming up. There’s still some mechanisms.
Ian: I mean, the appalling corruption over the contracts of PPE equipment.
Ian: Which I dunno if that was equally big in America, but who got the contracts —
Ian: — and how useless this stuff was.
Jon: We’re really good at glossing over corruption stories and moving on. It’s the, you know, the dog from “Up”, it’s always “Squirrel!” And somebody moves to the next distraction.
Ian: But America always seems to us to have so many lawyers, you just think, what, what are they doing?
Jon: We are a —
Ian: Sure, surely they should all be suing each other furiously.
Jon: We are a lawyer based economy.
Ian: And with the Dominion scandal, I mean, is that a defamation?
Ian: I mean to say — right. So that’s why this stuff’s coming out.
Jon: That’s right. It’s the only reason why it’s coming out.
Jon: And it’s the only reason why, and they were so comfortable with the idea that none of their private communications would ever come out, which is why it’s so explicit.
Jon: To the point of saying, “These people are crazy,” with the stolen election narrative in the ways that they think it’s stolen, “They’re crazy.” But if we say that, we’ll lose our audience. It’s a fascinating look at just sort of like, do you know the aura bora, we call it the snake sucking its own dick, like America has become a snake sucking its own dick.
Jon: And it’s, they create through, AM talk radio, which is just populism and nativism drilled at, at the earliest age into people, a news network that’s reinforcing that, that’s selecting stories that only reinforce their fear of the other, or, you know, Black or trans or anything that might be considered different.
Jon: They rev them up to that point and then it becomes impermeable.
Jon: And they were aware of that.
Jon: And they felt that they couldn’t — the Frankenstein that they had created, they could no longer say like, “Fire’s actually not that bad.”
Ian: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jon: “It’ll be OK. Just hang on.”
Ian: But is there not a point where, and this is what we despair when it doesn’t happen here, is when does shame kick in? If you are a national broadcasting figure, and you have, you’ve lied to your audience, you’ve told them things that are true, that are not true deliberately, and this is exposed, at what point do you go home and think, “I should resign, I should go?”
Jon: The shamelessness is, and this is something that I’m curious what you think about, it’s why I think so many on the right are aligning themselves with Russia over Ukraine because nobody can look at those two countries and say one is, you know, a shining beacon of democracy fighting against autocracy. But I think that Putin represents to them in some ways this western civilization that they would like to also protect. It’s not very democratic, it’s anti-gay. It’s mostly singular in terms of its ethnicity. And so they see that actually as political alignment that the right in America, and maybe even the right in Britain, don’t actually view Putin as a foe, but as an ally ideologically.
Ian: Yeah, but this is real, um, echo chamber nonsense, isn’t it really? I mean, any basic look at Russian history, would suggest —
Jon: But that’s —
Ian: That this isn’t true.
Jon: But don’t you — what I’m saying is —
Jon: — shame won’t kick in because they’ve got a larger ideal that they’re pursuing.
Jon: By any means necessary to get back to that sort of more authoritarian ideal of what the country was.
Ian: Yeah, but it wasn’t.
Ian: The authoritarian it wasn’t Russia because, you know, it’s got a fairly straightforward history of authoritarianism.
Ian: But it isn’t, for them, a natural ally. It is as you know, as we know, after the wall came down, it is a country which has reverted to a czarist model.
Ian: It’s dropped the ideology.
Ian: From the, the communist days and kept the repression. Putin is essentially Stalin who, you know, he admires and reveres —
Jon: That’s right.
Ian: — but without any of the belief. And whether you think Stalin believed even 100% of it.
Ian: And what was just a Georgian thug who took over. You know, you can read the history books, but essentially Putin doesn’t believe any of this stuff and he does it anyway. And you know, the latest thing is Putin has just been rumbled putting vast amounts of property into companies that represent the woman, the gymnast who he has had the children with.
Jon: Right. Right.
Ian: You know, so there is nothing admirable. There is nothing ideological. There is no crusade. I mean, I imagine that the religious right in America would, perhaps they should have a look at the Russian Orthodox Church and see whether they’re natural allies. Are they?
Jon: That’s the thing —
Ian: None of this makes sense.
Jon: — none of it makes sense. But if you look at the alliances, so we have this group in America called CPAC, and it’s these conferences of conservatives and it’s very political and Trump just spoke at it and all that. They held their last conference in Hungary and Orbán is held up as a figure of, this is where democracies should be going and he’s just one degree of difficulty removed from a Putin type figure.
Ian: But this is where the —
Jon: They’re all aligning in a way that says, “And we don’t have shame because we don’t care how we get it done. We’re gonna get it done.”
Ian: Yeah. I think that’s very generous.
Jon: And Farage and all those guys,
Jon: They’re all aligned.
Ian: Yeah. But all of them I think are cynical and without any ideology.
Ian: And without any morals.
Ian: And the morality is a fig leaf. I’m still the little boy saying, “The reason you are saying this phrase, ‘In order to defend democracy, we must ally ourselves with a lot of people who are tyrants.’” Now that seems to be —
Ian: — you know what we used to call, nonsense.
Jon: But have they flipped that here? Because what they’re doing now in America is the real tyranny is woke.
Jon: Woke is the tyranny. In fact, if you listen to Putin’s speeches —
Ian: Yeah. No, he picked up on that.
Jon: He’s started to take that phraseology. What they’re suggesting is “No, no, no. Diversity is tyranny.” Democracy, they’ve taken to saying in America, “You know, we’re not a democracy. We’re actually a constitutional republic.” And you want to say, which I don’t know if you read it, lays out a representative democracy, but that’s for another day.
Ian: I’m sure you’ve been through it.
Jon: Oh jesus. Has that, sort of explicit kind of repudiation of democracy or to use diversity as the real tyranny. Has that taken on here?
Ian: No, because we are not in a position where we’re saying we don’t believe in democracy yet.
Ian: And also we had a good public —
Jon: Five years!
Ian: Oh give it. [JON LAUGHS] But we did have a good public shaming over our sort of middle class and our professional classes taking vast amounts of Russian money: lawyers, bankers, whatever. And Britain became for about 10 years, there’s a very, very good book called “The Butler of the World.” We essentially went round the rest of the world fawning, saying “Any services we can offer you, sir? We do very good libel actions. We do marvelous —”
Jon: We’re starting golf tournaments for the Saudis. What — I don’t know what we’re doing.
Ian: I mean, and this, it’s been a terrible time. And the Chinese, again, Britain has entirely woken up to the fact that your fridge is now reporting back. If you happen to mention you are not pro keen.
Jon: Every TikTok dance we do gives another piece of information.
Ian: But you know, Britain had literally said, “Oh, we must get the Chinese to build our nuclear reactors.” That’s a good idea. That’s a really good idea. Put them in charge of the nuclear material at the heart of the reaction. I mean, we took some unbelievably naive decisions as a country because we were sucking up to anybody who had any money. And that was the Russians, that was the Chinese. “Come in,” London in particular, “Come in, we’re an enormous washing machine. Shove your money in and we’ll throw it all out.”
Jon: And the EU which was your, you know, the single market and all that was the thing that everybody resented. But nobody resented the money from autocracies.
Ian: No. And they said that the EU was a tyranny because it involved —
Jon: That’s the flip that’s been happening —
Ian: — pooling sovereignty. It involved small amounts of cooperation. And anybody who looks at the world and doesn’t spend their time fighting culture wars in their bedroom, on their laptop would think these are quite big problems. And most of them have to be solved by compromise negotiation, coordinated effort. I mean, none of this is rocket science. They’re not going to be solved by saying, “The big problem about climate change is it’s woke.”
Jon: But that is —
Ian: Is it? Is that it?
Jon: It is exact —
Ian: Is that the argument?
Jon: It is. Sadly, it is. Right now, you would think that pronouns have taken over and are bombing Ukraine.
Ian: Yeah. Any of this stuff, any of this cultural stuff, I would say is an attempted diversion.
Jon: It’s cynicism.
Ian: Yeah. Oh, no, it’s worse than that.
Ian: I mean, they’re practical problems in dealing with, you know —
Jon: For people that are dealing with that. It’s not easy. Right, right.
Ian: Do you know what I mean? There’s so many problems.
Ian: That the idea that the conservative party is saying, “We will win the election.” It’s like saying, “We will — we will devote ourselves as politicians to things that aren’t politics. We’re gonna join in some other matter.”
Jon: Do you think ultimately they actually care or they just view it as a path to power?
Ian: No, I don’t think they care at all.
Jon: Right. That’s the sense I get.
Ian: I mean, you look at someone like Russia, you know, which has a sort of residual emperor by czarist days full of non-diverse people.
Ian: And say in a place like Chechnya, it didn’t go so well for them.
Ian: Being non-diverse. So the idea that Russia is somehow this sort of —
Jon: Defender of western civilization and values, yeah.
Ian: Yeah. It isn’t, and Putin was pre-Trump and Putin literally appointed a man who was a sort of theatrical impresario to say to him, “How do I present what isn’t true as true?”
Jon: Right. No, it’s explicit.
Jon: And what’s so interesting to me is the explicit nature of that kind of propaganda in an authoritarian regime —
Jon: — is revealed in the emails of the Dominion lawsuit. Because what you see Rupert Murdoch says in the emails to the head of Fox News, “We must do whatever we can to help get right wing Republican control of the Senate.” Now this is explicit.
Jon: And so what you realize is this has nothing to do with a point of view. It has nothing to do with perhaps a slightly different worldview and everything to do with an organization that has been built explicitly as a propaganda arm for a political movement.
Ian: Yeah. And you think if you want to be in politics, go into politics. Doing it behind the scenes is just corrupt.
Jon: That’s exactly right.
Ian: You know, if you want to test yourself, stand. Say you’re a party. The idea that you behind the scenes influence what is happening.
Ian: Without, at any point being tested just through the power of money,
Jon: Is that a family that can be shamed? Is that, is he a man now — and I’m under no illusion that if it wasn’t Murdoch, it would be somebody else because, you know, power will find a way to exercise itself.
Ian: He’s been very canny about it in a loss of continents, including ours, over the years. So it’s not entirely accidental, right? It is Murdoch, I mean, he is an evil genius. In terms of appealing to the worst —
Jon: What about the dynasty of that family? Will his heirs carry on the work of there or will there be in any way when he passes and I think definitely within the next 50 years that will happen.
Ian: [IAN LAUGHS]You’re such an optimist.
Jon: 50 to 60. I’m giving it a window. I think I have him marrying another model around 2045.
Ian: He’s got a lot of wives left.
Jon: He’s got a lot of wives left in him.
Ian: He’s barely started and “Succession” needs another couple of series.
Jon: Well, do you think there’ll ever be a reckoning where they say, “You know, I actually think, oh, we’re destroying the very thing we —”
Ian: “We like.”
Ian: You know, part of me would love to be there saying, “I told you so.” [JON LAUGHS] But another part of me, which is mildly human as opposed to pure satire. [JON LAUGHS]
Jon: Just pure satire. You just love the comedy of it. That’s what you’re going for.
Ian: I mean, with the Murdoch empire, I mean, what he’s funny about it is the boys are obviously useless. And he won’t give it to the girl because he’s Murdoch.
Jon: It’s a girl! How is she gonna handle it?
Ian: No. So that’s no good. So with any luck —
Jon: I think Rebecca Brooks will ultimately be granted, she will be Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. She will find the golden ticket and will be given the elevator that flies everywhere.
Ian: Yes, and again, I mean, Rebecca Brooks, oh there’s of picture of her on the wall.
Jon: Oh, I love it.
Ian: It’s a Halloween special. [JON LAUGHS] Oh, it says, “Witch costumes are withdrawn from shops.” I mean, that’s not funny.
Jon: It’s not funny at all?
Jon: How dare you, sir. At long last, have you no decency.
Ian: No, it was the first day of her trial. Obviously there was a suggestion that this cover was taken into the court [JON LAUGHS] and they’re embarrassed to say, “This is contempt of court. Private Eye is trying to influence this action.”
Jon: You are the real tyranny, sir. How dare you?
Ian: Yeah. But fortunately, a very, very wise judge who got very cross and said, “But no.”
Jon: Now how many —
Ian: “It isn’t contempt.”
Jon: The libel laws here are much more difficult than they are in the United States. And people sue you —
Jon: — constantly.
Ian: Well, we don’t have what you have, you have to prove, malice.
Jon: Malice, yeah.
Ian: Here it’s taken as how it’s read obviously.
Jon: Here, they just have to prove you were being mean, sir.
Ian: Yeah. And again, I mean, we finally woken up, the oligarch spent a good 10 years. I mean, can you believe that the head of VOG Group. The group of mercenaries who recruit convicts and go in, he was suing journalists for suggesting that, I dunno, mercenaries operating in the middle of the war aren’t very nice. Anyway, we’ve had a lot of trouble with those sorts of defamations. But again, I think, you know, I am more of an optimist and I feel we are waking up a bit here.
Ian: In the proper sense of wake, [JON LAUGHS] as to what this looks like.
Jon: Right. And, and starting to maybe turn a corner.
Ian: Yeah. I mean, certainly trying to feel that there isn’t only one narrative. We don’t have to go the same way.
Ian: I mean, there was a headline, our ex prime minister, Boris Johnson, has just, there’s an interim report about his behavior during COVID and the parties and the interim report makes absolutely clear he knew what was going on and he’s guilty. He went on television and said, “I’ve been vindicated.” [JON LAUGHS]
Jon: Classic move.
Ian: Classic move.
Ian: But one of the newspapers just said “He’s gone full Trump,” and I thought, “That’s right.” And if he’s gone full Trump, then that may be the end of him. So I was feeling, it was possible. It was possible that we don’t have to entirely follow your model.
Jon: You’re welcome? [IAN LAUGHS] I think it’s, absolutely your optimism is well taken. I love the work that you do and you’ve been doing for so long. And you’re right, you can never stop trying to expose that the emperor has no clothes. Because when you do then it’s just, we’ve given up, then we’ve just —
Jon: — tilted over the king and said, “It’s over.” You know, I’m always reminded of in the United States in the 1920s. I don’t know if you know this, but we’ve had some racial issues over the years.
Ian: No missed that.
Jon: Yeah. It started, I don’t want to get into it. Uh, but the group, the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s got really powerful, and big and what took them down or what at least shrunk them —
Jon: — was not necessarily a reckoning with racist ideology or the past of a country. It was an expose on the peculiarities of their initiations and how silly they were.
Jon: And the exposure of that took away all of their mystique. And it’s what I love so much about the work that you do.
Ian: I think this is true of everyone and the best satirists, even in the worst countries, you know, the Russian ones, what they, they try and make Putin not merely scary, but ridiculous.
Ian: Because that is the thing that, on the whole, tyrants and dictators can’t bear. I mean, we had, it came into this office, during the Balkans war, there was two very, very brilliant young Croatians, and they set up a satirical magazine during the war and they came in and I said to them, I said, “Look, I think you guys are really, really brave.” And they looked at me and they said, “I don’t care if you think I’m brave, am I funny?” [JON LAUGHS] and I said, “Yeah, you’re funny” And that’s how to do it, I think.
Jon: Well then I can give you both compliments. [IAN LAUGHS] I can say both. Ian Hislop, thank you so much for joining us and sitting down.
Ian: No, thank you. Real pleasure.
Jon: Oh, thank you.
Jon: That’s it. Ian has left the building. That’s right here in this country, he is considered their Elvis. And so whenever he leaves a building, people always say, “Ian Hislop has left the building.” The legendary Peter Cook started this. We sat in the room where Peter Cook would come in and do his work, and it was just an incredible pleasure to be here in the office and to speak with Ian and to sort of walk around, and soak up the history of just one of, the greatest satirical and, enjoyable reads and people that we’ve had a chance to sit down with. Our show on Apple TV+, I think our defense episode, the military industrial complex episode, is coming out this week. We have an interview with David Petraeus, where he utterly comes clean. He stands up and he says “We are and have been wrong.” And he comes out as a pacifist and says that “Muhammad Ali was right to refuse the draft in Vietnam.” He says all of this. It’s f***ing weird, to be honest with you I was uncomfortable the whole time. I hope you watch it. OK. Bye-Bye.
Jon: “The Problem with Jon Stewart Podcast” is an Apple TV+ podcast and a joint Busboy Production.