It seems, finally, that this election campaign has come to life, despite all the Tories’ best efforts to keep it in the deep freeze – ok I’ll stop with the horror tropes now. Maybe (heheh).
It started with the most extraordinary event – which Marina Hyde has effortlessly described (never a good idea to compare yourself with such giants – I tell myself) so perfectly. Boris Johnson now has “phone robber” added to the long list of names Stewart Lee has assigned him. Of course the story that Johnson sociopathically avoided having to comment on was the story of Jack who, with suspected pneumonia, ended up sleeping on the floor of Leed General Infirmary because there were no beds.
It’s like the Christmas story, but in reverse, with Boris Johnson as some dark Christmas character from German folkore like the Krampus or from the StruwwelPeter stories.
It was I think more than anything else the wonton casting-off of social norms and the fact that he was being filmed by an ITV camera crew as he did it, that caused the sensation, as much as the story of Jack itself. Anyway within an hour it was clear there was a major crisis brewing and the CCHQ disinformation unit – otherwise known as CCHQ had to spring into action. They needed a Dead Cat. A dead cat is a story of such craziness, such appeal to the media, that it will displace whatever awful story is already running.
First they tried the “we’re going to privatise the BBC” line while Johnson was dressed up like a pantomime Elf n Safety gorn mad character in a Sunderland factory. This didn’t cut through at all and indeed people were already commenting that it was so obvious that it was a blunder.
They needed another plan. Health Secretary Matt Hancock had been dispatched to Leeds General Infirmary – well it’s not entirely clear what the plan was, perhaps to say sorry (to whom though?) – but he was there and as he left the building he was confronted by a tiny group of Labour protestors – literally about five people who were shouting at him. As you would. As his car left a man with a bicycle gesticultated at the car and Hancock’s special advisor walked into his raised arm. That was it. No altercation. No scuffle. A video released quite some time afterwards revealed the protestor saying to the Spad “you walked into my arm.” as if to suggest the Spad had said something like “you hit me.”
Within minutes Laura Kuenssberg, Robert Peston and Tom Newton-Dunn – who we shall call the client journalists, for the purposes of this charade, were tweeting that the Spad had been punched, and things had turned nasty.
We still don’t know how these three knew what had happened as none were on the scene. Newton-Dunn has been having a particularly bad week, after earlier publishing a story about the hard-left cabal around Corbyn, which turned out to include real Neo Nazis in its sources. The story was pulled after threats of legal action.
Anyway, the dead cat had been swung and had made contact.
What was interesting was who was amplifying the message – an awful lot of bot accounts on twitter. Hopefully someone will do an analysis as it could prove instructive – initial analysis here.
The “punch” story spread like wildfire – and within half an hour was on the Mail online as well as the deniable Tory/Brexit disinformation unit otherwise known as Guido Fawkes. By 5pm it was clear that the punch story had been exposed as a fake – BBC reporter Nick Eardley, who was actually there, confirmed on PM that there was no fight, no punch just an accidental collision. The story continued to run, but now there was a counter story all on its own – against Kuenssberg, Peston, Newton-Dunn and their client journalism, their willingness to swallow lines from “a downing street source” or ” senior conservative party source”, or whatever euphemism is in play at that particular moment.
By the 6pm news Kuenssberg’s report made no mention of the punch and she issued an apology on her twitter feed, but of course the damage had been done. Although actually the damage had not worked because the Jack story was still there blazing away at 10pm. Perhaps there was a secondary motive with the dead cat, which was to cast Corbyn supporters as violent leftist thugs hell bent on destroying the system – much as Newton-Dunn’s Neo-Nazi inspired hard left conspiracy story, had wanted to do.
Since I left the crime scene I see this morning that a new dead cat attempt started late last night, with claims that Jack Barr’s photo was staged and he couldn’t possibly had had pneumonia. This is how low the Tories are prepared to go. As I’ve said before it is a “no holds barred” contest. More on today’s dead cat here.
Is this all a storm in a tea-cup (or cat basket)? perhaps. But one thing is clear. Whereas we all knew that the Mail the Telegraph, the Times etc all the billionaire-owned media, are not to be trusted, now we can add client journalism in the broadcast media as those either willing or susceptible to being manipulated, happily amplifying dead cat stories to disinform and confuse the public, the voters.
This is not good news for our democracy. So we have to redouble our efforts to bring the media to account after all this is done and before it’s too late.