Tuesday, 4 February 2020
The row between the press corps and Number Ten rumbles on. Good. Sanctimonious press spokesmonkeys have been cropping up to complain about how their job is to hold government to account. Well, no, that is actually the job of Her Majesty's official opposition (which admittedly has somewhat dropped the ball in that respect, but that’s no bad thing right now). The job of the press, of broadcast media, is to report the news. Yes, there is a place for analysis, but let’s at least start from a neutral position based on the facts.
Oh, wait, facts. Now there’s a slippery little eel to wrangle. Facts are not what they seem to be. We were brought up to believe that facts are verifiable nuggets of actuality. He did this, she said that, this happened and here’s the proof. But even with documentary evidence of said facts, are these facts ‘the’ truth, or just ‘a’ truth? When Boris said humbug it was misreported right from the off. When Gove denounced experts the nuance was lost and the apparently reckless slur has stuck.
No wonder politicians have media advisors who try to avoid their man being photographed partially obscuring words like count and court and blurting out unscripted sentences, no matter how well intentioned. Anybody who has ever ‘lost’ an argument even when they were absolutely right knows the power of perception. It is almost schoolground stuff, this propensity of the press to spin the news instead of just reporting it. So why should public figures put themselves in harm’s way when they no longer need the mainstream media as they once did?
Politicians in particular are now broadcasting directly to their voters and their detractors alike, so it is little wonder that Dominic Cummins and Boris Johnson have together decided to tell their own news. The Prime Minister’s own YouTube bulletins may infuriate the press but the public seems to like them. And there’s that thing the press does all the time; I just wrote ‘infuriate’ when ‘annoy’ might be more accurate.
You see print journos in particular seem to like nothing more than hyperbole: No.10’s FURY. Johnson INCANDESCENT. And don’t they love a good old CRISIS? Why would anybody want to contribute to the overblowing of events from disagreement into all-out war, from debates into full-on slanging matches. Do they think that their readers will not engage unless every last utterance is broadcast as some apoplectic outrage?
Then there are the adversarial show trials. Even when granted unfettered access to quiz a cabinet minister, why must every third-rate interviewer suddenly turn into forensic examiner on a mission? Let the man answer and let him answer properly and fully. So many combative interrogators have managed to distort the story and damage the subject by overtly controlling the event. And some of the most egregious distortions have been created by omission, by not asking the important question or, more often, not allowing an answer.
So I say let the mainstream media stew a bit, let them have a long think about what their purpose and their place is and let’s have less of the crusader mentality. In the meantime let those with a message get that message out there and allow the listener to decide. The objection will be, of course, that without the intermediary of the press to interpret and challenge what is said the poor little people won’t know what is truth and what are lies. The irony is delicious.