The Sad Decline of the Spectator (and Why so Many of its Contributors Now Write for RT)

Oh Speccie, my Speccie, what happened to you?

I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the weird contradictions of current Western reporting is the fact that it simultaneously maintains that Russia is a) the chief worldwide spreader of anti-vaccination propaganda, and b) devilishly undermining the world by trying to persuade people of the merits of its Sputnik-V anti-covid vaccine. Those damn Russians – anti-vax and pro-vax all at the same time!

An example of the latter meme is the cover article of this week’s copy of The Spectator which claims that ‘Nations which are hungry to compete with the West — and especially America — are using their homegrown coronavirus vaccines as a way of gaining influence. They are exchanging their vaccines for loyalty and acts of public obeisance.’ By ‘nations’, author Cindy Yu means Russia and China, but what demands of ‘loyalty and public obeisance’ these two are making in exchange for the vaccine, Yu doesn’t tell us.

For good reason, since, as far as I can tell, there isn’t any evidence to support her claim. But it’s clear that Yu thinks that the fact that Russia has developed a successful covid vaccine and is exporting it around the world is a bad thing.

Which when you think about it is kind of odd. Providing vaccines against a worldwide plague is bad!! Saving lives is bad!! Bad, bad, bad. Indeed, it’s proof of malicious intent.

But note the hypocrisy here. When Western states, notably the UK and USA, export vaccines, that’s not about geopolitics at all. That’s just goodness. After all, says Yu, ‘If there were a genuine choice in a real market, the West would win: polls show Pfizer and AstraZeneca are preferred to Sinovac and Sputnik.’

Well, polls are one thing – vaccine effectiveness is another. The Chinese Sinovac vaccine doesn’t seem to be the best, but Russia’s Sputnik V is proving to be very good at preventing covid, plus it’s cheap, and you don’t have to keep it frozen at very low temperatures. In a free market it might do very well.

So, basically, the Spectator article is just fact-free fearmongering, or more accurately hate-mongering.

Yet, it wasn’t always like that. There was a time, not so long ago, when the Spectator could produce covers like this one with the title ‘Power Games: Paul Robinson defends the Russian leader’ (which wasn’t entirely accurate, as I didn’t defend Putin, just criticized the EU for demanding that Russia continue to subsidize gas exports to Ukraine while simultaneously demanding that it end subsidies for domestic Russian users).

That was back when Boris Johnson edited the magazine, a time when a multiplicity of different opinions were permitted. After he left, however, the tone changed, and since then, the Speccie’s covers have descended into repeated rabid Russophobia.

It’s kind of interesting that the last of these contains a reference to RT. For it’s no coincidence, I think, that a number of those who used to write regularly for the Spectator under Boris have now ended up at RT – I can think of myself, Neil Clark, and John Laughland for starters, but there may be others. We have very different political views – Clark is too far left for my liking, and Laughland much too far right. But the fact the Spectator once housed us all was a sign of a genuine openness.

Moreover, it’s not as if we’ve changed our line. We’re still saying exactly the same things we were saying when writing for the Speccie. Back then, when they were being published by the guy who is now Prime Minister of the UK, those views were acceptable. But now, because exactly the same opinions appear on RT, they are ‘Russian propaganda’! Go figure.

Alas, the last 15 years have not been kind to the British press. The willingness to countenance alternative viewpoints has been replaced by a rigid orthodoxy which allows no deviance from the endless diatribe of, as I said, ‘fact-free fearmongering’. In those circumstances, is it actually a bad thing that those viewpoints now have somewhere else they can find expression?

Oh Speccie, my Speccie, what happened to you?

31 thoughts on “The Sad Decline of the Spectator (and Why so Many of its Contributors Now Write for RT)”

  1. “So, basically, the Spectator article is just fact-free fearmongering, or more accurately hate-mongering.”

    just following the Mainstream Media Rag Universal Policies: If you do not adhere to NATO demands (meaning US foreign policy) you are our enemy and thus need to be reviled, propagandized against and due a Regime Change™.

    I stopped reading Der Spiegel online, the rag is just nothing but comical when the topics touch China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and the rest of the NATO disapproved of “REGIMES”, as well as turning off DW, Al Jazeera, France 24 when it comes to the topic of any of the above mentioned nations as their responses to anything that happens there just follows a common script.
    I just am astonished by the amount of hypocrisy the journalists of those Media can bear without breaking a sweat or even flushing a little bit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. France 24 and Al Jazeera have half hour shows that periodically deal with Russia. The pro-Russian position is typically outnumbered 3 (host and two guests) to 1. Notwithstanding such shows are worthwhile provided the pro-Russian leaning advocate is solid enough along the lines of Mark Sleboda and Dmitry Babich. In some other instances, the pro-Russian stance isn’t well represented


    2. peter moritz, at one point in time in the early US net-web-universe I got what felt like quite unexpected attention in the internet universe. Considering the web-location it felt highly unlikely, and I guess I wouldn’t have noticed, hadn’t someone not pointed it out to me. …

      The only thing, it felt, that could have triggered the attention, may have been the cultural clash I experienced while looking on the US web. … Which forced me to some extent to withdraw into my limited knowledge of the history of the history of journalism … or more precisely the little I knew about it. … The German history – from Weimar to Hitler?

      My thoughts circled around the ideal of objectivity, you know: Facts are sacred and comment is free. And actually may have drawn attention for the wrong reasons considering the larger US discourse at the time. … But yes, it circled around “objectivity” and journalism. Unfortunately I didn’t keep a link and/or at least the name of the author, a US student (?) who struggled with the topic at the same time, which alerted to the attention I got at the time I discovered. Never found it again later. … You feel I should blame Google?

      I had problems with Spiegel at points in time and space, long before the narrative scandals of the NYT and the later one of Spiegel surfaced in their struggles for attention. But versus one of my closest friends I was never a regular reader of Spiegel. The point in time, where he stopped to read it regularly is harder to target. I can ask him.

      What were your specific points of dissent in time and space do you remember?


      1. I used to read Der Spiegel frequently from the mid sixties to the early eighties and less frequently after our immigration to Canada.
        At that time I found the reporting about US aggression – i.e. Vietnam, Nicaragua, Chile etc., the state of the USSR quite balanced.

        it seemed to change after Putin was elected President and the Spiegel more and more seemed to espouse a neo liberal agenda comfortable and much less critical towards the Regime Change agenda especially in the former members of the Warsaw pact, and the Middle east, and a ever increasing lack of critique of Israel.
        Maybe the reason was the process of selection which articles to feature in their Der Spiegel online version which in itself shows an editorial bias, or it really was a change in the direction the Spiegel went after Augstein.

        After the coup in Ukraine there was one article in the Spiegel english version that actually was critical of the whole Maidan and post Maidan development, but this article afaik never saw the light in the German version.
        Everything else mouthed pretty much the same version of NATO produced reality that Russia “invaded” Ukraine without much mention at all of the fascist forces behind many of the developments in Donbas etc. and of course followed the anti Russian playbook regarding MH 17 to the Russian “Doping scandal” following the direction by giving Rodchenkov full credibility that was already shredded in an article in the Nation in 2018 and of course the story of Martyr Navalny.


    3. babble alert:the Spiegel went after Augstein.

      not sure what you mean. Guessing that is a reference to Jacob, who saved “Der Freitag” without ever being able to raise it quite to the level it had before it needed a lifeline.

      Otherwise, no further explanations needed. I was with Jacob, while quite aware he made it onto the Wiesenthal list. Grass was drafted as my father in autumn 1944. … I didn’t read Grass’ late outing, but my brother gave it to him …

      much mention at all of the fascist forces behind many of the developments in Donbas etc. …

      Definitively fascist fits for me considering one event, the Trade Union House in Odessa. … arsonists had drawn my attention before I met one, then on ‘work therapy’ guarding the gates (as secretary) in a huge (late 19th century) house dedicated to the arts on a much huger forensic clinic terrain in 2001. … By the way the lady that attacked Oscar la Fontaine was there too. In the high security tract. A house behind a very, very high barbed wire, inmates flown in by helicopter.

      The arsonist was female too. … I didn’t really intend to, but I learned more about her than I ever wanted to. In the end I understood better that more sensible people than me were shocked when they realized where they had ended up immediately. Like most vividly a female art student from Edinburg. ….

      Let me give you a vivid early example. One of the very, very few of her jobs as secretary was to order the food box for the art student classes arriving very early in the morning on the doorsteps. I told her, that those kids were unfamiliar with a special type of German vegetable. The next morning the box arrived with ONLY Kohlrabi salad gone, ditto any other vegetable. Power?

      The women by the way, killed eight people of a Turkish family. I don’t recall it made news like Solingen. Does that trigger something? (Duisburg) … longer history.

      I had to stay and could study her further 4 months, there was really only one horrifying moment (and night, in a huge then empty house, hounded by ghosts) when she came over one evening to tell me the story of the above mentioned arson. … A variation of the story, I assume.



  2. It’s not just UK. It’s even nastier in Sweden – a country that tried to be neutral between the big powers some decades ago (well, it didn’t always succeed).

    When we try to argue that letting in NATO armies into our territory isn’t particularly guarding us from war but rather drawing us into big power power games, we are attacked, rather viciously I would say, from the big newspapers as “Putin’s agents”. In the “we” I include among other people a retired arch-bishop and a few retired ambassadors.

    Nineteen years ago the editor of Times of India, Shastri Ramachandaran, regretted the disappearance of Sweden from the world scene, nowadays being “commonplace and acquescent”, an “unthinking ally of Washington and Brussels”. I thought at that time that the reason was that the Swedish elites felt socially insecure and needed the protection of more powerful class-mates. Nowadays, I rather believe that it has to do with the decline of the production power of the Atlantic states, and the growing paranoia this gives rise to.

    If so, it will probably grow worse.


  3. I don’t think it has anything to do with Boris Johnson, because it feels like it happened to all of mass-media, simultaneously.

    It’s as if they were puppets, all controlled from one place. And if this sounds like an insane conspiracy theory, sorry, but this what it feels like to me. I’d be happy to hear a reasonable explanation. I don’t think the subtle mechanism described in Manufacturing Consent would suffice for this purpose.


    1. 2014, Crimea. Huge embarrassment for Obama and NATO, utterly humiliating for the West generally. I saw massive change then in all British press but fully across the spectrum at that point. News outlets that barely mentioned Russia previously went full integrity initiative on us all. Bellingcat etc. Been fascinating to see how quickly we went back to cold war mentality. Its now reached the level of sheer delusion. UK msm are utterly unreadable, never even browse any Russia related article in the UK, know exactly what you’re going to get and the Guardian are the worst, they have a least one anti Russian or Russophobic article per day, every day. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. Pathetic establishment school boys playing petty games. It will have zero effect in the end.


      1. The Guardian was my favorite newspaper when I lived in London in the 70s. Meanwhile, it survived a more complex ownership journey.

        The Guardian drew my attention before 2014, I guess around that time I may have looked the above reference up.


      2. As I mentioned in some previous comment, as soon as I became aware of the coup supported by the USA through Nuland was a given, I was sure that this spelled the end of a Ukrainian Crimea and announced such to my friends on our German discussion table at the local Tim Horten pretty immediately after Yats had been proclaimed Prime Minister.

        No one in his right mind would think that Russia would allow Ukraine to deprive Russia of its Black Sea harbour which to happen was a certainty after the pronounced intent by the US to have Ukraine join NATO.

        To anyone somewhat aware of the Russian/Ukrainian/Nato situation would have known that Russia could not and would not permit this.


  4. – Lyt sees the topmost cover
    – Lyt groans profusely, loud and without relish.


    [What, you were expecting me to post the famous “The Plumb pudding in danger” cartoon, the original? Oh, no. No-no-no-no.]

    “The willingness to countenance alternative viewpoints has been replaced by a rigid orthodoxy which allows no deviance from the endless diatribe of, as I said, ‘fact-free fearmongering’.”

    Take heart, Professor, for there is always The Express, a go to paper for the 50+ y,o. of certain political persuasions!…

    …oh, wait…


      1. My personal favorite is that one with the massive shadow of the Russian bear scaring the shit out of the EU poodle. Oh, my poor Fifi!

        I don’t know why, I just find poodles funny in and of themselves, especially with those silly haircuts.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Well done Spectator! Special thanks to Cindy Yu!

    Upon seeing this cover, more than a few people with unatrophied brains will cringe in disgust. And some of them will turn to – you guessed it! – RT. And will they not be pleasantly surprised to discover familiar names among the contributors.


  6. And who reads that piece of rubbish? Not even people from the five eyes and 29 blind followers. Propaganda is targeted at domestic “market”. Do you really believe you can sell such a bad story about Russia or China in Africa, Asia, South America. These people (even illiterate ones) know exactly who committed genocides against them, who plundered their lands and sold them as slaves. And it was not either Russia or China.


  7. What left me a bad taste in my mouth was some of the commentary in one article about a Brexit campaign claiming that Britain “didn’t win two world wars to be ruled by a Kraut”. The readership of the Spectator seems to have a thing against Putin’s Russia, or at least Germany’s involvement in Nord Stream II and any other business between Germany and Russia. They also consider China a threat as well.
    Then again, it’s England. That same England that tried to prevent German reunification. To me that says it all.


  8. The Spectator, alongside its sister The Telegraph, is going through a rather pitiful phase. Their foreign policy analysis peddles a litany of badly researched Atlanticist banalities. The article you mentioned here brings to mind that Buzzfeed ‘From Russia With Blood’ nonsense. Tonnes of conspiracy-mongering assertions, worthy of a 9/11 truther, and not a shred of evidence. It’s not even a question of their editorial stance (I’ve learned lots from intelligent neoconservative voices like the late Richard Pipes whose politics are certainly not mine). It’s the quality of the Spectator’s work which leaves much to be desired.

    The saddest thing is, however, that this concoction of anti-Russian and anti-Chinese clichés is the magazine’s highpoint nowadays. Most of the time, they devote themselves to moaning about ‘culture wars’ and ‘free speech’. (Not a fan of ‘woke’ politics myself, but is there nothing else to talk about?)


    1. It’s not even a question of their editorial stance (I’ve learned lots from intelligent neoconservative voices like the late Richard Pipes whose politics are certainly not mine). It’s the quality of the Spectator’s work which leaves much to be desired.

      Grigory, I do not know enough about Richard Pipes or his work, or for that matter recall his name mentioned in the multitude of books on Neoconservatism both from observers and proud insiders I read. You may be right though, considering his son and hardcore supporters drew my attention on the web in the early (mid, to late?) 2000s chasing ill-guided directions in US academia. There were some that tried to enforce father Pipes as compulsory reading.

      It feels your second paragraph gets us into deeper cultural layers, with the US no doubt leading the larger latest “culture war” pack (s?), if I may call it that. But this time not only at home but in the larger Western Sphere.

      I have this obviously superficial impression you are a student in the natural sciences. Don’t force me to go back to make myself wiser blog or web wise. I am misguided?


      1. Richard Pipes was a highly provocative scholar of tremendous importance. He very much provided the Polish narrative of Russian history and was famously accused of approaching the subject from the standpoint of a prosecutor. His politics, both as Reagan’s adviser and as an academic, were hawkish and certainly not mine. (His son, for that matter, is among the foremost advocates of US policy in the Middle East, unrivalled in his hostility to Iran and the Palestinians.)

        Yet I have learned much from his works. I quite agree that his famous trilogy on Russia/Soviet Union should be compulsory reading, whatever one may think of the politics.

        As far as culture wars are concerned, they have deteriorated into a meaningless and thoughtless civil war over issues of secondary importance. Instead of articulating profound Burkean or Lockeian visions of social order, publications such as The Spectator have descended into petty bickering.

        My own background is in history, although I worked in education for years before pursuing my degree.


    2. “I’ve learned lots from intelligent neoconservative voices like the late Richard Pipes whose politics are certainly not mine”


      Blessed be the freedom of speech, for it gives the people plenty of opportunity to make the proverbial rope with which they then hang themselves.

      Somehow, I’m not surprised at what caused your ingrained smerdyakovschina. Gregory. This also explains your status of the cross-cultural mule – already not just non-Russia, but actively anti-Russian, but also forever doomed to never be accepted by the mainstream Westerners as their own. You deserve only pity.


      1. Yalensis, RT has jumped on that bandwagon too, but at least they have shows like Going Underground as well as Paul’s column which actually deal with stuff that matters. I get why people get worked up over woke politics, but The Spectator barely talks about anything else. Such degradation is lamentable for a magazine that has previously published Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Bertrand Russell and Germaine Greer.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s true, RT has much more variety of opinions. But you can still clearly deduce their political slant when it comes to American politics: They are still hoping for some kind of miracle that puts Trump back in the White House, if only they play enough on conservative “family values” and anti-woke emotions!


      3. Yalensis, I get where you’re coming from although I see it slightly differently. As a state TV network, RT is designed to establish rapport with Western citizens. This is most easily done by launching a wide-ranging assault on centrist ideas/institutions and tapping into many of the same grievances that Trump exploits – social inequality, imperial overstretch and ‘woke’ capitalism. This can lead to an alliance of convenience with Trump although this is usually a means to an end.

        As far as the Spectator people are concerned, currently it’s an absolute travesty. What’s more, Wikipedia lists some of their staff writers as ‘free speech activists’ alongside Nadezhda Mandelstam, Ida Wells and Emma Goldman. To place these women alongside provocateurs like Brendan O’Neill is little other than blasphemy.


      4. Hi, Grigory. Yeah, I get that RT’s job is to establish “rapport” with Western citizens and fan share their grievances, etc. Not sure what their end-game is, though, when flirting with Trumpers. Of course, I am a socialist myself, so I tend to see things very differently from these RT editors, and I am also mature enough to recognize that people with my type of views are in a small minority.

        So, yeah, RT might may more hay by flirting with the American right. I know for a fact there is a wing of American Right which is pro-Putin, so maybe that was the point all along. All in all, they certainly do a better job just as a newspaper than Westie press, that’s for sure, regardless of their political slant.


  9. I seem to recall reading somewhere (or was it some Simonyan’s interview on youtube?) that they define their niche/role as delivering news and opinions that are being ignored and suppressed by the western mainstream media.

    And if that’s their self-assumed role, then appearing “flirting with Trumpers” (among other impressions they may create) would be a natural consequence, methinks.


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