The Zapruder film, presented by TalkTV
The reporting after Kate McCann's faint at the Tory leadership debate shows how little the papers expect you to trust your own eyes.
Today’s edition is dedicated to the memory of Rory aka The Kafka Dude
This edition was going to be about TalkTV’s “Sun showdown” debate between Margaret-Thatcher-cosplay-obsessive Liz Truss and Britain’s first Borrower candidate for Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. However, the programme — held in a Tron-style nightmare cell — came to a premature end when the presenter, Kate McCann, fainted.
McCann is okay but the way the unexpected event was handled and reported is more instructive about how the media works than further questions about meat prices or Sunak and Truss’ favourite tangentially tit-related Sun story could ever be.
In the minutes after the broadcast went off the air, some journalists — many of whom have shared much more distressing clips — threw up their hands at people posting footage of the moment that the debate stopped. The difference between images from war zones or people in distress in the Channel, and this? Well, they knew this person.
Once it was established that no one was seriously hurt, the effort began to reinterpret the event as favourable for one candidate or the other. Superficially, it was an easier task for Truss supporters since she was in shot when the faint occurred.
The foreign secretary appeared to rush forward to help the presenter before the debate was forced to come off air.
… while The Telegraph said it…
…[understood] that Ms Truss dashed over to help her.
The Daily Mail’s version, despite its Truss cheerleading, was nearer to what appeared on-screen:
A loud noise caused the clearly worried Foreign Secretary to hold her face in shock as she exclaimed: 'Oh my God!'. Ms Truss was then seen walking towards where Miss McCann was standing, while Mr Sunak went over to hold her hand.
In The Sun, the focus was flipped:
Rishi Sunak rushed over to Kate McCann and held her hand after the TalkTV host fainted during last night's Tory leadership debate.
… Eyewitnesses told The Sun how Mr Sunak raced to Kate’s side.
Ms Truss also went to check on the presenter and both candidates were seen kneeling down checking she was ok.
Presumably, most of those “eyewitnesses” were News UK employees.
The Guardian’s version carried no hint of the rushing, racing and dashing discerned by The Sun, Times and Telegraph:
Viewers heard a loud crash, with Truss looking shocked and holding her hands to her face. She began walking towards where McCann had been standing before the video feed was cut.
The most patronising account of the events featured in Tim Stanley’s Telegraph sketch on the debate:
… the gods did [Truss] a favour by having the camera focused on her when Kate passed out. Liz’s instinct to run towards the disaster did her credit, a reminder that whatever her job, she is first and foremost a mum.
We can only assume that Truss would have stared on dead-eyed and emotionless were it not for the fact that she has children. After all, women only develop compassion glands (also known as Leadsom nodules) when they give birth.
The debate moment functioned as a Rorschach blot for political reporters; if they stared long enough at Truss’ brief recreation of The Scream, they could discern either the right stuff for leadership or an unforgivable failing.
That the footage shows Truss looking for guidance before slowly walking towards where McCann was doesn’t matter. In TalkTV’s very own Zapruder film, the speed of the Foreign Secretary directly correlates to the ideology of the outlet reporting it. The evidence of your own eyes and ears is irrelevant.
This example is a relatively minor one but it neatly illustrates how slight changes in emphasis and word choice can lead to an event being reported very differently. Now think about all the times a camera isn’t present and there’s no footage for us all to see.
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