The News Versus Jeremy Corbyn

For those who have put up with what passes today as news, it must be striking to look at the coverage of Jeremy Corbyn, which may — even for those who don’t like his policies or barely follow politics — now feel more than a little odd.

Two weeks ago, Boris Johnson paid a visit to Addenbrooke’s hospital, as part of a PR stunt in which staff weren’t informed of the visit or permitted to ask questions, before Johnson was booed out of the premises. BBC News, ITV and Sky News all covered the visit in detail, showing, as former British diplomat Craig Murray noted:

Then the following week, when Boris Johnson appeared hungover and dishevelled at Sunday’s remembrance service, laying his wreath upside down on the Cenotaph, the BBC, rather than drawing attention to this apparent gaffe, decided not just to ignore it, but to doctor footage, inserting a three year old clip of Johnson laying a wreath down at 2016’s remembrance service into their coverage of Sunday’s proceedings:

After coming under intense criticism on social media, provoking the hashtag #wreathgate, the BBC apologised (on Twitter only, it seems) for what they described laughably as “a production mistake”:

Former Telegraph chief political correspondent Peter Oborne, documenting Johnson’s repeated lying and the widespread failure of the media to hold him to account, shares that:

It is worth stressing that the BBC is paid for by and answerable to the public, officially bound by rules of impartiality, with a charter that expressly commits the BBC “to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality and accuracy”.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph, apparently also no longer pretending to be a news organisation, devotes their entire front page to a Johnson tantrum declaring Jeremy Corbyn to be the new Stalin:

The Times the same week informed their readers that Corbyn is not to be trusted on national security because he voted against the Falklands war in 1982 — despite the fact that he did not even become an MP until June 1983.

Meanwhile a respected Telegraph columnist warns her 45,000 Twitter followers that a Corbyn government would “be the most serious threat to the UK” since the Second World War because it would see “over 10 trillion pounds” (a number which is four times the UK’s entire GDP) “leave the country overnight”:

It would be a mistake to view these examples, all taken from the last few weeks, as unusual or outside the norm (see also here, here and here for more cases).

In fact, for the last four years, journalists and commentators across the entire spectrum of educated opinion have depicted Corbyn as every terrible thing that one can dream up: a Soviet spy, a terrorist sympathiser, an IRA ally, a direct threat to national security, a “fucking anti-Semite”, hopelessly unelectable, unpatriotic, “too frail to become prime minister”, an existential threat to Jews in Britain. We have been told that he is both a dithering and indecisive loser, without the backbone needed to make tough decisions, but strangely also a ruthless Stalinist dictator ready to purge elements of his party that hold a different view to him.

While much reporting has included the kind of fanatical lunacy sampled above, far more subtle and effective has been the repetition, over and over again, of the view that Corbyn is simply “unfit to lead”, that Labour are “in turmoil”, and report after report that Labour’s “poll numbers [have taken a] huge hit”.

Reflecting on this, Ollie McAninch of The London Economic concludes that Corbyn “has been the victim of perhaps the longest continuous smear campaign ever seen against a politician in the UK…” adding crucially that “we are all influenced by the continual negative and false headlines about [him]”.

He cites an in depth analysis by The Independent in 2016, finding that “75% of all press coverage of Jeremy Corbyn factually misrepresented him”:

Dr Justin Schloberg of Birkbeck University and Laura Parker draw similar conclusions in their study of ‘Labour, Antisemitism and the News’, presenting findings that they describe as “consistent with a disinformation paradigm”:

Interestingly, The Guardian, allegedly a left-wing paper, was identified as one of the worst culprits for reporting failures on this issue (see page 17).

And Loughborough University a few days ago published research for the first week of GE19, showing that Labour had a staggering deficit of positive to negative news reports:

British historian Mark Curtis reflects:

It is worth noting that none of this is new. Before Clement Attlee won the 1945 election and created the NHS, along with thousands of jobs and a million homes, he was also slated by the major newspapers of the day as a harbinger of Nazism in Britain:

At this point, what should be obvious to any rational person is that the whole of British elite society are utterly desperate for you to hate or distrust this person — which should lead to pretty straightforward conclusions about the side he is on and the threat he represents to established power.

*The second half of this article, looking at Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism crisis, can be found here

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