Trust in the media enters Tier 4: Newspapers played a big role in the ‘cancelled’ Christmas

Goldfish memory and alleycat morals are a British media affliction but they cannot be allowed to forget this time...

I was 12 when Roland Emmerich’s alien invasion blockbuster Independence Day crashed into cinemas and I loved it. It was big dumb fun with Will Smith cold-cocking an alien, The White House getting wasted, and Bill Pullman being a gung-ho fighter pilot President whose stirring speech was so distracting I almost didn’t notice that all the other nations in the world were reduced to yee-hawing cheerleaders. I still have a soft spot for the film because it’s about a fictional disaster in which politicians and people unite to fight a common enemy and defeat it.

The alien invasion of 2020 is a virus — Covid-19 — which has been cut down to size by other nations, notably New Zealand, while the US and UK flail, wobbling from one indignity and iniquity to the next. We don’t have a Bill Pullman. We have… Boris Johnson, who is only ever heroic in the hyped-up headlines dished up by tame tabloids.

In the summer, those papers — especially The Sun and The Daily Mail — went big on the rhetoric about own our ‘independence day’ as the restrictions of the first lockdown were dramatically loosened by President Boris the Clown.

They were desperate to frame the man, who they so vociferously supported in the 2019 general election just over six months before, as a hero again that they leapt on the idea that he was ‘freeing’ us. But the stories of corruption, cronyism, and complete incompetence kept coming, with a second lockdown and the tier system trailing behind them.

And so here it is unmerry Christmas and nobody’s having fun/look to the Brexit future/it’s only just begun…

The tabloids are like Will Smith in another film of the nineties — Men In Black — forever using the Neuralyzer to wipe their memories and conveniently forget what they did months, weeks, or even days ago. They have already forgotten their role in championing the Eat Out To Help Out scheme that sent infection rates spiking and they will have, in the editions on the newsstands today, experienced a total blank about their cheerleading for Boris Johnson’s Christmas bubble plan before it popped.

The agreed fiction among the British media — the kayfabe collusion — is that it is an observer and not an active participant in the business of politics. That kayfabe is only broken when papers like The Sun want to boast about being a factor in election wins (It Was The Sun Wot Won It etc.) or Leave backing journalists want to big themselves up as the Brexit Media Corps (but activist journalists are bad when they’re on the Left, right?). The rest of the time the studied ignorance and fiction that the media just watches and comments abides.

For the Mail On Sunday, government water carrier and world’s worst political commentator, Dan Hodges is already on manoeuvres to make excuses for the Prime Minister:

What Boris Johnson wanted to do is irrelevant; focusing on that is like debating what hand a dog that happens to he sat in front of a pile of playing cards is planning to put down in a game of Poker. What Boris Johnson wants is always the same — pleasure and attention for himself, enrichment for his friends, and the continuation of his time in the spotlight. Moral and compassionate concerns do not factor in his calculus, no matter how often the tabloids try to turn him into some kind of oddly cosy Churchillian cartoon.

That reframing of the huckster in Number 10 is happening again. On the front page of The Sunday Times, the client journalist and bestselling chronicler of Britain’s political and social decline in well-sourced and highly spun tomes, Tim Shipman gets to work:

Alongside a news story that swallows government spin like so much delicious eggnog and a pensive picture of the Prime Minister, Shipman offers the tortured analogy of a “Cavalier” PM turned into a “sober Roundhead” by circumstance. But Shipman is not a detached historian recounting Johnson’s pseudo-Cromwellian cockups; he is a pamphleteer, a propagandist for the very politicians who have pushed us to this point.

Shipman writes…

office has a weight all of its own. It was clear in his eyes, heavy with sadness as he was driven back from a run in the grounds of Buckingham Palace yesterday, Union Jack beanie on his head. He might want to swap it for a tin helmet…

… and, in doing so, echoes Kay Burley’s infamous idiotic “the sadness in his eyes” tweet about a dog during the Paris terrors attacks of November 2015.

His analysis garlanded with gobbets of insider information — dropped into his eager baby bird mouth like worms by the bigger birds of the government spin machine — Shipman strains to find excuses for Boris Johnson. For now, his paper and its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, what Johnson to remain in Number 10, but soon enough they will get to the business of kicking him into touch. Early in 2021, I suspect Johnson will be gone and The Times preferred candidate switches between ‘Dishy’ Rishi Sunak and the ‘hometown’ favourite, former Times journalist Michael Gove.

For now, Shipman concludes his column with something more akin to magic thinking than analysis. As has happened frequently in the past, he prays to the PM’s ‘mystical’ confidence:

One of those who helped run his election campaign says Johnson is “a confidence player”, whose personal performance is more than usually dependent on whether his tail is up or down. To survive and prosper it may not be necessary for the public to believe in him. It may only be necessary that he believes it himself.

Looking at him yesterday, muttering the conclusion of his comments — “As sure as night follows day we will beat back this virus” — it was not clear he does so.

“It may only be necessary that he believes in himself.” Bollocks. Believing in himself led him to believe that he could write two columns — one pro-Remain, one pro-Leave — and make the one he chose work through sheer force of will and deception. Believing in himself and not the science — however much he hammers on about following it — led him to contract Covid. Believing in himself is why he has failed to take decisive action time and time again, so desperate is he for that ‘self’ to be loved, whatever the cost.

The Sunday Telegraph, whose daily sibling is keeping a column warm for its former star, ready for whenever he is done slumming it on the lower wages accorded to the office of Prime Minister, leans heavily on the appearance of the mutant strain of Covid. It was never going to blame its boy, Boris.

Its columnist Judith Woods talks of a “blow” to “battle-weary Britain” as if this Christmas clusterfuck was in any way unpredictable. The Telegraph was foursquare with the Prime Minister in crowing in the dim and distant past of… Wednesday that the Leader of the Opposition (as ludicrous as that name is applied to abstention fan Keir Starmer) was a Grinch for questioning the now-junked Christmas plans.

Woods gets lachrymose about the lost opportunity to do a long list of upper-Middle Class Christmas obsessions but doesn’t hit out at the half-arsed leadership of Boris Johnson and his cabinet of horrors. Why? Because to do so would mean admitting, however, slightly that The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph have been complicit in the promotion of a con artist to the position of Prime Minister.

Of course the focus today — as the bleak midwinter gets bleaker — should predominantly be on the Prime Minister and his government of ghouls, but do not allow the distraction tactics of the papers who have propped them up to go unnoticed or to succeed. The majority of the British political press helped bring this cancelled Christmas to pass. We need to be their ghosts of Christmas present, past and future, and never let them forget.