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It takes donkeys to clean up media’s mess

15 Jul 2020  |  Raymond Snoddy 
It takes donkeys to clean up media’s mess

Source: Twitter/Led By Donkeys

A new piece of content from Led by Donkeys exposes the UK media’s failures to confront the lies, avoidances and circumlocutions of ministers, writes Ray Snoddy

The latest content produced by the anti-Brexit political campaign group Led By Donkeys is probably the most devastating piece of work the friends who met in a pub have ever done.

The group’s creation in December 2018 was fuelled by anger at the lies, as they saw it, being told about Brexit and a desire to do something about it - even though some of them had voted Leave.

This time, their chosen headline could not be more simple: “Boris Johnson is incompetent, pass it on.”

There follows a nine minute, 58 second video timeline of the Covid-19 virus and a wide selection of the things that the Prime Minister has said, done and not done, like the tolling of a bell.

The animated timeline complete with voice-over starts on 31 December, when the Chinese first informed the World Health Organisation of the existence of a new virus. It features the warning in The Lancet on 24 January that the virus represented a serious threat to human life, before marking the dates of the first five Cobra emergency committee meetings, which Johnson did not attend.

Then there is the date of the Prime Minister's working holiday at Chevening, through all the missed opportunities to take action, the date when the PPE crisis was solved - when it was not remotely solved - all the way to 5 May, when the UK first recorded the highest Covid death rate in Europe.

There is nothing new in it. We vaguely remember it all but the terrible facts are set out, one after another with the power of an unconventional documentary.

The point is not that it is remarkable - even though it is - but the fact that a group of pub friends, with the help of crowd funding, have produced something with more impact than much of the established media.

By concentrating on the here and now, the ever breaking news, the media has been swept along without pausing enough to think enough about the enormity of what has happened and how we’ve got there.

A once-in-a-century pandemic - if we are very lucky- has been allowed to feel almost normal.

No need for daily press conferences any more because things are getting better and life is apparently returning to normal - at a time when the equivalent death toll of two jumbo jets are still crashing in the UK - or more precisely in England - every week.

At least the Prime Minister has finally worn a mask in public for the first time, as indeed has President Trump after months of denial.

But where is the outrage? There’s been over 45,000 officially confirmed Covid deaths, with excess deaths of more than 65,000 compared with the five-year average for this time of year, depending on whose figures you choose.

It is a failure of large sections of the media that it should be so.

In the U.S, papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post have kept careful tallies of outright falsehoods or merely misleading statements made by President Trump. But it is the Lincoln Project, produced by dissident Republicans, which has produced the hammer blows of highlighting - rather like Led By Donkeys- what Trump has said and when he said it.

There are always honourable exceptions but in the main, the UK media plus television and radio in particular, have not managed to expose adequately the many lies, avoidances and circumlocutions of ministers.

The fact checkers do their work but it’s after the event, allowing the lies to sail on unmolested.

Court room barristers like to say you should never ask a question to which you do not know the answer. At the moment, many interviewers lack the depth of knowledge or briefing to tackle live the barefaced lie which is increasingly the currency of this government.

Unfortunately, there’s just not enough Andrew Neils to go round.

Despite pages of Sunday Times Insight articles and the work of experienced television political editors, the success of getting to the bottom of why the UK has among the highest, if not the highest, Covid death rates in the world is only partial at best.

Some were briefed early on that the Government was seeking ‘herd immunity’, a crazy idea that may have set us on the wrong track and led to thousands more unnecessary deaths, although the herd immunity delusion has naturally been denied.

Due to lobby briefing rules and conventions, we still do not know who gave that briefing and on whose authority.

But perhaps the biggest failure of the media - television in particular - has been to allow 45,000 people, or 65,000 people to simply disappear as if into thin air.

Where is the coverage of funerals? How have undertakers coped with such a heavy and dangerous burden? It is as if most of those individuals have been airbrushed out of history.

In the U.S, again, the New York Times and the Washington Post have both tried to track every death and put names to faces. One day last week, the Houston Chronicle carried 43 pages of death notices.

There has been nothing like it in the UK. The famous get a story. Or the first hundred health workers to die are honoured with a page of pictures, but that is it.

Television is the worst culprit. You have been able to see mass burials in Brazil, South Africa and Italy and coffins in New York but not in the UK. Are the pictures better than in the UK, is it because they are foreign or are our Covid burials simply more dispersed?

Or are we simply more reticent in the portrayal of death?

Otherwise intelligent people say it is obviously a conspiracy by the media to avoid alarming the public. There is no such conspiracy other than a lack of imagination and a failure to get properly to grips with the core reality of the story - and besides, many of the victims are elderly.

It is a failure nonetheless and one that has helped to normalise the greatest pandemic the UK has faced since the ‘Spanish Flu’ more than a century ago.

Some sections of the media could have even more problems later this year when the supposedly ‘unrelated’ Covid-19 and Brexit collide.

Apart from a second hit to the economy there is a link of course. The right-wing libertarian press, which downplayed the risk of the virus and wanted to get on with reopening the economy, are also the ones who promised the sunny uplands of a UK, free from the shackles of the EU.

If a second wave of the virus strikes, which many scientists believe is more than possible, at the same time as the potential chaos of a No Deal Brexit, they will have a lot of explaining to do.

The only certainty is that Led By Donkeys can be relied upon to rise to the occasion on both Boris Johnson and Brexit.

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