CAST your mind back to the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony in Washington DC on 20 January 2017, and the furore over the size of the crowd. Trump criticised the overwhelmingly hostile liberal (Left-wing in US political parlance) media for under-reporting the number of spectators, which he put at 1.5million.
Outrage ensued. For the next two weeks, the media devoted its resources and reporting to proving him wrong. Fact-checkers and crowd-size scientists were engaged. The talking heads in the news studios debated endlessly how many people the eastern half of the Mall, extending from the steps of the Capitol to the Washington Monument, could theoretically hold. Camera footage from helicopters was obtained to estimate crowd densities and apply these to the measured area.
While the liberal media’s attention was focused almost exclusively on desperately trying for its anti-Trump ‘Gotcha!’ moment, Trump’s attention was elsewhere. During those two weeks he initiated the process of reviewing, de-fanging and ultimately de-funding the Environmental Protection Agency, whose ideological capture by the Green movement and the ‘climate change’ industry had helped to advance both causes during the Obama years. Only the Guardian appeared to pick it up. By the time the mass of the US media cottoned on to it in the second half of March, and predictably had an attack of the vapours, the process was well under way and virtually irreversible.
In short, as neat a way as you’re likely to find, outside the pages of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, of neutralising the enemy’s strength by turning it against itself.
I was reminded of this on Monday afternoon when the row broke about No 10 allegedly denying some accredited journalists access to Lobby briefings, the long-established system of privileged access enjoyed by the political correspondents of the major traditional newspapers and broadcasters.
For anyone who hasn’t followed the initial stages of this saga, the Lobby briefings were recently moved from the House of Commons to No 9 Downing Street, ostensibly on security grounds, but accompanied by some ‘inner Lobby’ hacks being selectively invited to special briefings, with others excluded. On Monday, the entire Lobby walked out in protest, although the circumstances are, to put it mildly, disputed.
As Dan Johnson of The Article suggests, the Lobby doth perhaps protest too much. The system is antiquated, incompatible with the growth and increasing influence of new media, and functions as a restrictive-practice closed-shop run for the benefit of its members, thus securing them competitive advantage over their rivals.
All true, but what struck me was the immediate press reaction, and then the implications for the way government communicates with the voting public, and vice versa.
Just as with their Washington DC counterparts three years ago, outrage and hyperbole duly ensued. Huffing and puffing (appropriately, you might think, from The Huffington Post) was the order of the day.
Not long elapsed before references to ‘Goebbels’ and ‘fascism’ were being bandied about, the principle of reductio ad Hitlerum never far away when the Fourth Estate feels its dignity slighted. The incident apparently represented a ‘frightening attempt by Johnson to exclude unsympathetic press’ . . .
. . . although how a government which wanted to ‘exclude unsympathetic press’ would have included the BBC, ITV News, Sky News and the Guardian in the inner group invited to stay for the specialist briefing was not immediately obvious.
I suspect Dominic Cummings is the mastermind behind this, taking a leaf out of the Trump media-playbook, and doing it brilliantly.
For all their complaining, some sections of the traditional, established (and Establishment) media really have only themselves to blame if their past few years’ conduct is, as appears to be the case, leading ordinary people to accord their account of Monday afternoon’s events in Downing Street no greater credibility than the Government’s version.
One gets an increasing impression of a general public sick and tired of significant parts of the journalistic profession eschewing proper factual and impartial reporting and analysis in favour of slanting, opining and trying to tell them what and how to think. Not to mention sneering at, demonising and insulting them whenever their opinion dares to differ from the homogeneous groupthink of those same parts of the media’s incestuous left-‘liberal’ metropolitanism.
Take the BBC’s discharge of its Charter obligations over the past few days. How did it choose to mark Brexit Day?
By using its children’s wing, CBBC, to pump out a bitter, aloof, anti-Brexit and demos-phobic sneer at the entire country, hosted by alleged ‘comedian’ Nish Kumar, most noted for telling his white audience to ‘go home and kill your racist Brexit-voting parents’, and so egregious that it was condemned even by the BBC’s own premier political interviewer.
By refusing to broadcast the elected Prime Minister’s speech to the nation on the cusp of its most significant constitutional change in half a century, while covering the event in a way that left little room for doubt as to where its sympathies lie.
By sending a reporter to the celebrations in Parliament Square to ask participants whether the crowd wasn’t ’too white’. LBC’s Julia Hartley-Brewer’s comment speaks for itself.
By reporting the crowd in Parliament Square as ‘a few hundred’. After which your scribe, having been there, decided to try a little ‘crowd-science’ for himself. Measured on Google Earth, the celebration area was roughly 6,500m2. Where I and my fellow TCW scribes, accompanied by our esteemed Editor, were, the density was probably three people per m2, but let’s say 2.5 per m2 on average. That equates to possibly 15,000 people, maybe 18,000, but certainly not fewer than 12,000. Rather more than ‘a few hundred’, anyway.
Finally, on Monday, and with quite impeccable timing in view of the opprobrium rightly heaped on it over Brexit Weekend, the BBC announced an increase in its so-called ‘licence fee’ – or, to label it more accurately, its coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability tax.
The impression of an organisation knowing it has lost the trust of its audience and therefore doubling-down with impunity on its contempt for it, is hard to dispel. As, equally, is the impression of anti-BBC opinion specifically and anti-media opinion generally having ramped up exponentially after last weekend.
I suspect Dominic Cummings knows this, and is choosing his moment carefully, judging that the public may now be more reluctant to support the media in a spat with government than for a very long time; also that, if the mainstream established press thinks that this is the time to go to war with Downing Street, it’s making a big mistake.
He has a point. Sixty per cent of poll respondents support the decriminalisation of non-payment of the BBC ‘licence fee’, and no fewer than 75 per cent want to see it scrapped altogether. The BBC’s risible denials of its institutional pro-Left, pro-Remain bias in its selection of Question Time panellists have been comprehensively demolished. As Daniel Hannan argues, the self-important broadcasters of the traditional media are yet to realise how irrelevant they now are.
No 10 cut the BBC out of its production of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Day address completely, preferring to use its in-house videographer and distribute it via social media simultaneously with making it available to the mainstream TV news channels. This – apart from the content, of course, which must have been anathema to the BBC – is thought to be a factor in the BBC’s refusal to broadcast it.
The mainstream media is becoming less and less crucial to the communication process between government and governed, with social media engagement figures climbing rapidly.
Cummings, I’d surmise, is only too aware of this, hence the apparent willingness to treat the mainstream media with considerably less deference than it feels entitled to. New channels of inter-communication between electors and elected risk its decline in significance accelerating. In the same way that Trump often does, No 10 is playing a hostile media like a violin, and it’s working.