Journos go for the jugular

17 May 2017  |  Raymond Snoddy 
Journos go for the jugular

NYT

It may not be as exciting as reporting on the chaos in Washington, but there’s no shortage of robust political reporting in the UK - despite the bias. By Raymond Snoddy.

The cartoon in The Times today (17 May) with Jeremy Corbyn repeating 'Left a bit...Left a bit...Left a bit...' as he takes a group selfie on the manifesto platform, thereby pushing off the likes of Diane Abbott and Tom Watson, is worth a smile.

The rather brutal analysis of Labour’s manifesto costings are worthy of attention.

But the most striking item in the edition is not an article but a full-page advertisement.

It’s from bookies Paddy Power offering odds of 2/1 on a Trump impeachment.

The way things are going in Washington the betting fraternity should look beyond the horses and dogs and pile into Trump.

You don’t have to take the word of Paddy Power, instead try lawyer David Gergen who advised three presidents, two of whom faced impeachment proceedings - Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

According to Gergen, President Trump is already entering “impeachment territory” if he personally requested the FBI to drop its investigation into Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security advisor.

Leave aside for a moment whether Donald J. Trump actually ends up in impeachment territory, we can now decide without a shadow of a doubt that what Trump liked to call the fake and failing media have not been cowed one little bit by his abuse and threats.

Newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are rising to the challenge on a daily basis.

It was the Post that brought us the story that Trump, in bragging mode, revealed highly classified intelligence information to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It could have threatened the life of an undercover agent in IS and compromised intelligence relationships with America’s closest Middle East ally - Israel.

Then came the comedy - the denial denying something that was never alleged before Trump goes on Twitter to dynamite his staff defenders to say as President he can reveal any classified information he likes.

Next up the New York Times goes for the jugular with its story that President Trump asked the FBI director James Comey to shut down the Federal investigations into Flynn in a meeting in February.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Trump is alleged to have said.

The sentence certainly carries the cadences of the Trump way of speaking complete with the trademark unnecessary repetition for emphasis.

Although the story was denied there is still wriggle room in the carefully crafted denial.

According to the Post, Comey made what they call in the UK contemporaneous notes of the conversation - notes which were in part read out to a Washington Post reporter.

While Trump is a case unto himself, and may even think he is a law unto himself, there are eerie parallels with the Washington Post’s pursuit of Richard Nixon over Watergate, although it is very early for Trump to find himself in such trouble.

Nixon eventually felt beleaguered, betrayed, yet still invulnerable - and then the leaking started with the help of the tapes that ultimately led to the destruction of his Presidency.

For Nixon it took only one well-placed inside source. With Trump people seem to be falling over themselves to leak the chaos that is the current White House.

You can be sure that the detailed, precise and factual reports based on comprehensive leaking to papers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times will continue.

Already the outlines of an endgame can be seen - Comey dumps all at Congressional hearings amplified by both press and television. Then it is perfectly possible that an independent commission will investigate any relationship between the Trump election campaign and the Russians with unpredictable consequences.

Before the year is up Paddy Power odds may look very respectable.

As always the UK media - broadcasting as well as newspapers - reveal a more uncertain and patchy picture in their coverage of the general election.

This is a purely subjective impression of course, but it sounds as if broadcasters are trying their best to avoid the unfortunate levels of lazy impartiality seen in the Referendum campaign and are seriously challenging both politicians and their numbers.

Diane Abbott for one will attest to the numeracy and quick thinking of LBC’s Nick Ferrari.

Whether it was wise to allow the soft-soap appearance of Theresa and Philip May on The One Show remains a matter for debate even though one crucial national issue was thoroughly exposed - who in a relationship has responsibility for putting out the bins.

With national newspapers the search for fairness for endangered species such as Jeremy Corbyn is more challenging to find, with only one influential media cheerleader - the Daily Mirror.

It is a perfectly respectable media responsibility to test Labour’s manifesto - or more precisely how that manifesto should be costed - to destruction.

It’s a matter of tone and how that testing should be conducted.

For the Daily Mail, when its attention can be dragged away from Moors murderer Ian Brady, it’s called on the front page: Corbyn Plan To Bankrupt UK.

Now “bankrupt” is a very strong word. Very few countries actually go bankrupt - even fewer in the developed world.

The justification? Step forward Conservative backbench candidate and world-renowned economist specialist Jacob Rees-Mogg who warns that Labour's plans would bankrupt Britain and drive businesses abroad.

The Times is much more measured and factual, quoting the Institute for Fiscal Studies' view that Labour plans to raise nearly £50 billion in extra taxes to pay for its proposals was on the highly optimistic side.

There was also strong reporting on what had changed since the leak of the draft manifesto - including the insertion that “freedom of movement will end when we leave the EU. Britain’s immigration system will change, but Labour will not scapegoat migrants.”

The Times hits the nail on the head with its “Labour’s Omnishambles” leader.

It is, The Times claims, a manifesto written with no expectation of a Labour victory but is aimed “at the inevitable ideological bloodletting that will follow defeat.”

It seeks to establish a position around which the Corbynistas can coalesce, argues The Times before concluding: “This approach deprives the electorate of a serious choice and weakens British democracy. Labour should be ashamed.”

It may not be as exciting as leaks in Washington or Paddy Power odds on a Trump impeachment, but there’s no shortage of robust political reporting in the UK - even if it is not all exactly bias-free.

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