Saturday 7 December 2019

Johnson goes time travelling on BBC news... or does he?

  • BBC Breakfast
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds in Downing Street arriving for the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds in Downing Street arriving for the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

On the BBC Breakfast programme, they showed scenes of Remembrance Sunday, during which Boris Johnson, in keeping with tradition, could be seen placing a wreath at the foot of the cenotaph.

But it came to the attention of certain viewers, that these pictures were not in fact from last Sunday's ceremony, they were from the one in 2016, at which Johnson looked far more spruce and alert and generally a lot better than he had looked during the 2019 version.

According to those who had seen the real pictures of him, he made a bags of it last Sunday, appearing to be unusually unkempt and, shall we say, distracted - he ended up laying his wreath upside down.

And so a great tumult arose, with the BBC claiming that this was merely an accident, an error, one of those things that just happens on a busy television news show - and on the other side, a load of people who would not believe that there was an innocent explanation. People who are too wise to the ways of the world of spin-doctoring and debauchery in general to buy this line - especially during an election campaign being fought in such a toxic atmosphere.

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These non-believers were traduced as "conspiracy theorists" by the supposedly sensible BBC types, shaking their heads sadly at how quickly the "conspiracy theory" had been embraced, when the truth was allegedly just a boring story of an everyday cock-up.

Ah, but why would the sensible BBC types be so quick themselves to come out with the "conspiracy theory" line? They must know by now, that when authority figures throw around terms like "conspiracy theory", they are showing a strange lack of curiosity about the fact that sometimes conspiracies do indeed happen, and not just in theory.

In fact, almost everyone knows that there are men and women whose job it is to engage with journalists and broadcasters on behalf of their political superiors, sometimes with extraordinary levels of aggression - it is what they do for a living.

Therefore when we see something that looks wrong, it is not naive to suspect that it may not entirely be down to human error.

I remember a few years ago, being a guest on various Sunday morning radio programmes where it would be a routine occurrence for the producer to receive a phone call before the show, about some story in one of the Sunday papers.

The call would be coming from a legend of the "PR" world, some handler or fixer with a heavy reputation, and usually this person would be telling the producer that the story in question was false - that the minister hadn't done what he was reported to have done or the business leader had never said that, and moreover if this false story was repeated on the programme, well, let us just say that they would be "reserving their position".

Several times I saw it happening, and the main thing that struck me, was how easy it seemed, and how well it worked - the producer would indeed be in an appalling position, with no immediate means of verifying the story one way or the other, and no time to do it anyway.

And having been warned by the spin-meister, the producer would be risking massive damages, on the off-chance that the story was indeed untrue.

This is how the handlers and the fixers earn their corn, and it is not such a secret any more - so to call these "conspiracy theories" is wrong from the start.

But the really sad thing for the BBC, and indeed for a lot of other mainstream broadcasters, is that so few people believe them any more when they claim to have made an innocent error. For too long now, they have been allowing the worst of bad actors to own the airwaves.

They did much to create the monster that is "Boris", they don't rightly understand or want to understand, the horrors of which he is capable.

They are, in a true sense, fake news.

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