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Adam Curtis | 17:03 UK time, Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Last Friday Zac Goldsmith made a dramatic appearance on Channel 4 News.

The programme had accused him of not declaring some of his election expenses and he came into the studio live to answer the charges.

But Goldsmith seized the agenda and turned the interview around. He accused Jon Snow and his team of lying when they had said that he had previously refused to come on the programme. It is a fantastic scene which you can find HERE.

Goldsmith transformed the interview into an all out attack on truth and lies in journalism - at one point calling for "a new journalism".

What is fascinating is that his father, Sir James Goldsmith, did exactly the same thing 33 years ago on a BBC television programme at prime time.

goldsmithboth.jpgIt was an edition of The Money Programme in November 1977. James Goldsmith was a controversial businessman who had made a fortune taking over many old established British companies. One of them was Cavenham Foods which made Bovril.

The week before, the Money Programme had put out a film that accused Goldsmith of being an "asset stripper". He came on to defend himself - and what then happens is just wonderful.

Goldsmith takes over the programme. He accuses the two presenters of lying and starts interviewing them. He says their attack on him is part of "a malignant disease that is infecting this country"

One of the journalists bleats weakly: 'It's more conventional on these programmes for me to be asking you the questions"

I thought I would put up parts of the interview.

James Goldsmith is important because he used the power of the markets to break up the cosy patrician elite that ran Britain and its industries in the 1950s and 60s.

In the process Goldsmith helped transfer power in this country away from politics and towards the markets and the financial sector.

But 20 years later he decided that the giant market forces that he had helped re-awaken had become a threat to democracy. And in 1997 Goldsmith stood for parliament with his own party.

But he failed - and died two months later.

This year his son, Zac, stood for parliament and was elected. Zac has become an MP at a time when much of what his father feared seems to have happened. Our politicians are struggling to deal with a financial sector that seems no longer able to deliver the economic stability it once promised.

Maybe it would be better to interview Zac Goldsmith about what he - and his party - are  going to do about the financial sector and their threat to economic stability and democracy rather than quibbling about the cost of circular stickers that say 'Zac'?

But it wouldn't be half as much fun.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Have you seen Jon Stewart on CNN's Crossfire?


    "It's not so much that your show is bad, it's that it's hurting America."

    The presenter's frustration as Stewart turns their own audience against them is really, really entertaining.

  • Comment number 2.

    Wow, I'd forgotten how hostile the presenters become towards the end attempting to assert the format.

    Just to add, this happened in 2004 and Stewart was like a canary in the coal mine. Things have become progressively worse.

    And that Crossfire didn't last very much longer having been cancelled due in part to Stewart's appearance (according to the Wikipedia):


  • Comment number 3.

    Wonderful clip. I really wish the BBC would open up more of its archive. Even if they charged for viewing. Are there any online plans in the future?

  • Comment number 4.

    Extraordinary - the charisma a sheer force of personality behind both Goldsmith pere et fils is just gobsmacking. We all laughed in 1997 (and Private Eye still does occasionally) but James Goldsmith's final position - as shown by Adam in the final part of 'The Mayfair Set' - of supra-national elites, both financial and political (the EU), destroying national democracy, seems increasingly prescient.

    It's a shame Zac had nothing meatier to defend or attack. Stickers? The EU gained the ability to enter into relations with nationslast week; it hass essentially become a state under the Montevideo Convention's definition of such. Whether for or against, surely stickers is the last thing we should be talking about.

  • Comment number 5.

    I suppose a few hundred million quid and an elite education can give you a certain self assurance.

    Did James Goldsmith see communist plots everywhere? The 1970s were after all a period of trade union, anti war and civil rights activism. The current economic crisis cannot be laid at the door of any of those things, even Al-Qaeda make a shoddy stand-in for Reagan's Evil Empire. With no great ideological battle Zac can only be a feeble shadow of his father. The trivial nature of his spat with Channel 4 News only highlights this.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hello Adam,
    Is it possible to contact you via email ?

  • Comment number 7.

    I find it so strange that men like George W. Bush and Zac Goldsmith, people of particular pedigree, choose to go into politics. With GWB, it seems as though every door in private industry was open to him.

    I no longer believe that it can be something as useless as ego that motivates them, yet I have no concise alternative theory to explain why someone who doesn't really need money or public scrutiny seeks the access that a representative of the state provides.

    All the best, and hope to enjoy new work as soon as possible.

  • Comment number 8.

    Nice one Adam - and great headline.

    But love them or loathe them, the Goldsmith's are correct. "News" is often nothing more than a mixture of lies, halftruths and innuendos. And even though, I knew Zac was going to have a ready reply, I still thought, watching the first half of the report, that it was an open and shut case against him. But he had a plausable story and we will have to wait and see.

    But, Adam, I think you have been a bit guilty of this crime too! You put:

    "But 20 years later he [James Goldsmith] decided that the giant market forces that he had helped re-awaken had become a threat to democracy. And in 1997 Goldsmith stood for parliament with his own party. But he failed - and died two months later".

    I think that gives the wrong impression. The Referendum Party was one of the more effective Euro-sceptic campaigns and was mainly an attack against political forces not economic/market ones. Don't forget the Euro is as much a political project as an economic one. Indeed, I would say that the Referendum Party was a major factor in Blair/Brown's decision not to join the Euro straight away. And now, we may never join. I think James Goldsmith would see that as a success.

    Then by linking his death to his "failure" you seem to suggest the campaign killed him. But if you die of pancreatic cancer, you can be healthy one day, then dead within 3 weeks.

    But great article once again - thanks.

  • Comment number 9.

    Brill, and I agree, the title is hilarious.

    I love James Goldsmith's voice, I might start talking like that. That bit where he says "You Lied!" is fantastic, I think it's in the intro to one of Adam's programmes, The Mayfair Set.

    Thought the Crossfire bit was great too, and what Stewart says about raising the level of debate...well I make him right.

    I think the last episode of the Mayfair Set makes two particular points in relation to James Goldsmith's entry into politics and his motivations. Firstly, that it was a reaction to the broadening of wealth and power which had undermined his unique place in British business. The deregulation had allowed others to accumulate wealth and undertake the same kind of asset stripping that had made his fortune. This links into him effectively saying that the market had gone too far and had too much power. Whatever the merits of that argument, it seems unlikely that he really worried about the wider social implications, but he had to frame his own anger about the his loss of power somehow.

    The other point, and it's related, was that it was inspired by a type of nationalist conservatism in that he wanted to return to the old days when his power was less rivalled. I think he associated Maastrict with international business interests and globalisation, which undermined his nationalised wealth and perhaps identity.

    Basically if you've lived it up for years and made lots of money and had great success, when this life is threatened or diminishes there's every chance you'll react with agression and defiance and attack it on a moral (albeit hypocritical in this case) basis.

  • Comment number 10.

    Isn't 'quibbling about the cost of circular stickers' a vital part of protecting (what's left of our) democracy from the nightmare of US style corporate bought & paid for election candidates?

  • Comment number 11.

    Has anyone here heard of or read any John Gray? i've just come across him and think his stuff is pretty interesting.

  • Comment number 12.

    I just think that they want their interpretation of reality to be enforced, and they know very well that it is vital to dominate the debate in order to do this.

    I thought it was more pertinent than noted that he bought electric tricycles, and thinks of them as election vehicles. A pretty massive misinterpretation of the rules, I'd say. He doesn't realise that this is stretching fair-minded rules so that he can show off his wealth and seek to impress people with it. AKA buying the election. He thinks that this is all part of the political game, no doubt, and that everyone in politics does this kind of thing - hence his claim that we'd have to have a new General Election, not just a new Bye-Election, if he loses his case - however, I think election spending should be severely capped so that politicians have to win support through their arguments and their actions in the public sphere. People are impressed by money being thrown around, it is in human nature, for better or for worse, and so it should be excluded from the political process, which needs good quality minds and charisma so that it can act as a check and a guide to the other major institutions - business etc. - of the country.

    But this is all in the law. Has anyone ever explained the moral practicality of the law to Zac Goldsmith and his peers? Do they actually know why they should do right, why it's more efficient for the country in the long run?

    Zac Goldsmith perhaps thinks that this is beneath him. But if you - as head of the team - don't get the details right, as his father demonstrated on the Money Programme, you are accountable; this is important because it's the running of the country. If you try and fiddle the little things, you're bogging everyone down in dealing with small fry, when there are much greater issues to get stuck into. And we've just had 13 years of that...

  • Comment number 13.

    Great stuff... The Goldsmiths are an interesting bunch...

    Adam, any chance of dusting off that footage of Lasch and Castoriadis being interviewed on the BBC that I emailed you about (if I got your address right, that is...).

  • Comment number 14.

    By the way Adam, I think you are in luck as far as being able to release your material in America. Our Library of Congress has just dramatically eased restrictions on copyrighted works in certain circumstances: https://www.copyright.gov/1201/

    I think this may affect your work:

    Persons making noninfringing uses of the following six classes of works will not be subject to the prohibition against circumventing access controls (17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)) until the conclusion of the next rulemaking.

    (1) Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:

    (i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;
    (ii) Documentary filmmaking;
    (iii) Noncommercial videos.

    Well hello there, Mr. ii!! I hope you can make use of this new ruling. Time to bust open your DVD collection for access to more footage? Why not! Cheers!

  • Comment number 15.

    I dont know if anyone is interested but there is a very long interview and debate with goldsmith on trade here https://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5064665078176641728...

    touches on financial market derivatives and their danger at some point, and despite charlie roses deaf ears articulates an alternative economic theory that i think has a bigger audience now than in 1994

  • Comment number 16.

    In this paragraph you make a point that isn't completely accurate.

    "But Goldsmith seized the agenda and turned the interview around. He accused Jon Snow and his team of lying when they had said that he had previously refused to come on the programme. It is a fantastic scene which you can find HERE.

    Goldsmith transformed the interview into an all out attack on truth and lies in journalism - at one point calling for "a new journalism".

    If you listen to John Snow instead of getting carried away with the theatre of it he defends, at least partly successfully, Zac Goldsmith's allegations. The comparison with his father's appearance on the money programme is superficial. His father was right. It sounds as if Zac Goldsmith was at least partly responsible for the claim he didn't engage with Channel 4.

    So actually You're distorting something to make a point about distortion. What a wonderfully topsy-turvy world, love the blog and your work please don't think this is some kind of personal attack, it isn't intended as one. I agree with your point the subject of the investigation and interview is missing the wood for the trees big time.

  • Comment number 17.

    I still remember the endless articles about "Sir Jams" in the Ingram days of Private Eye, and the endless lawsuits they provoked.

    In the Curtis world he seems rather prescient.. :-))

    The Trap (Paperback) [1994]
    Mr. Goldsmith was a private equity billionaire who made his fortune buying companies and assets from developed and developing countries around the world. Yet despite this success, his book openly questions the notion of unfettered global markets.

    He describes how the shift from locally produced goods to goods produced anywhere in the world could destroy the prosperous economies of the developed world that were built up over centuries. This will happen, according to him, because global free trade will create unbridgeable divide between the rich over the ordinary people.

    The rich will stay rich by investing their capital into Multinational Companies. In order to compete and make profits, these companies will exploiting ever cheaper sources of labour in developing countries.

  • Comment number 18.

    The Irony of ironies.

    I wonder if Mr. Curtis would like to ask the BBC to stop 'moderating' the comment section in the Orwellian manner it does so at present.


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