Somersaults and blind eyes

14 Nov 2018  |  Raymond Snoddy 
Somersaults and blind eyes

For the pro-Brexit press, events could leave them facing ever more extreme contortions to explain to their readers the difference between what was promised and the unfortunate reality

In the summer the Reuters Institute confirmed in a formal way what we well knew already – that there had been a heavy pro-Brexit imbalance in the coverage of the Referendum campaign.

Of the 2,378 articles analysed over the campaign, 41 per cent were pro-Leave compared with 27 per cent pro-Remain with a marked focus on politicians, spokesmen and personalities rather than experts, analysts, academics and foreign politicians.

Now with the arrival of a 500-page “deal”, the nationals - and the pro-Brexit papers in particular - are having to perform somersaults, or even sometimes turn a blind eye, to cope with the many contradictions involved.

What to say when initially they only had leaks from the Irish broadcaster RTE to go on and no-one knows how many, if any, Cabinet ministers will resign and whether the deal with its ties to the customs union stands any chance of getting through the House of Commons.

For obvious reasons the Daily Mail coverage is the most fascinating. We will never know what Paul Dacre would have made of the current “complexities” other than to suggest that it would have been very different from the coverage produced by Geordie Grieg.

The headline: “Judgment Day” was well judged and happily bridges the gap between two very different editors, meaning at the same time, both apocalypse, and, more neutrally, time to make your mind up.

The dramatic difference is inside where there is another outing for the Soviet accusation “wreckers".

But this time it’s “deal wreckers,” and the target is the “hardline Brexiteers” and Ulster’s finest, the DUP, who were all threatening to sink the deal before they had even read the document.

They had raised “an orchestrated wall of hysteria” against the deal, which should now be given “a fair chance” the Daily Mail said in its comment columns.

Would Dacre have even considered giving Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond “a fair chance” in such circumstances or would he have been calling for mass resignations from the Cabinet?

The stridently pro-Brexit Sun is interesting in a different way – more for what it didn’t do.

On an historic day, by any standards, The Sun splashed with a family picture - Happy Birthday to “The Grins of Wales.”

A 70th birthday news story?

There was only room for a modest couple of paragraphs on the Brexit furore on the front, the same weight as given to the “miracle of murdered crossbow victim’s tot.”

Was the issue judged to be simply too boring for its readers and was therefore not a tabloid issue. The Daily Mirror surprisingly concentrated on the British tourist who died of rabies while the Daily Star, unsurprisingly, uncovered the “news” that the police have only six more months “to find Maddie.”

Or was The Sun too unsure where it stood to produce a full-throated response?

The story was covered factually, and well, on Page Two – the place where serious goes to die in the Sun.

The paper gets some of its Brexit mo-jo back only in its leader column, although there is heavy use of conditional tenses.

If the deal robs us of our right to leave the custom’s union or involves paying £39 billion while preventing us freeing ourselves from the EU’s courts or central institutions, then it is not Brexit.

That would be “insanity - a betrayal which cannot survive and must be rejected,” and if the Government were to welch on its promises to the DUP it could not govern.

The implications of The Sun’s approach – a no-deal Brexit and/ or a general election and a possible Corbyn government - and the likely effect on its readers were not discussed.

As a broadsheet the Daily Telegraph was able to do full justice to both the Royal birthday and “May faces ‘moment of truth’ on Brexit deal.”

Naturally the paper gave considerable weight to the Brexiteer brigades and Iain Duncan Smith got a page lead for his prediction that the Prime Minister had broken red lines, if reports on the Brexit deal were confirmed, and as a result, was on the way out.

In a feature, Jacob Rees-Mogg argues the Cabinet should act to stop a half-in, half-out Brexit and the paper suggested that at the very least there would be a major backlash from Cabinet ministers.

Yet again when you go to the leader columns you find a surprising degree of restraint, verging on the banal.

Prince Charles gets the main billing with a positive piece about his years in waiting, while the Brexit second leader appears under the gripping headline: “Finishing line in sight.”

Who could disagree with its stirring conclusion?

“With no parliamentary majority and little agreement among the warring factions, it is impressive that the Prime Minister has got this far. But now her greatest struggle may just be beginning.”

Err yes.

The Times has a sharply reported splash noting high up that the Prime Minister is being accused of betrayal.

And then what is clearly turning into a trend, a noticeable omission.

What does The Times think of these dramatic events? We do not know. There is a leader on the disconnect between the UK’s booming job market and its weak economic growth - something that will worsen with falling EU migration.

There is room for the scintillating topic that the Crown Prosecution Service is in need of significant change and commonplace advice for “Charles at 70” to steer clear of controversy.

On Brexit there is not a word - perhaps because they did not want to opine on leaks and lobby chatter.

The Times cartoonist Peter Brookes displays no such reticence and provides a boxing match setting. The catchline: “We’re In Touching Distance” coming from Theresa May, the EU’s Michel Barnier lands a powerful blow and leaves the Prime Minister tangled in the ropes.

For the pro-Brexit press, events could leave them facing ever more extreme contortions to explain to their readers the difference between what was promised and unfortunate reality.

As least the BBC is starting to repair a badly tarnished reputation on its post Brexit referendum coverage.

The BBC has been forced by the power of events to lift its omerta on covering the case for a second vote on the Brexit terms.

There on the Today programme was Remain MP Anna Soubry able to make the case without unreasonable interruptions or put downs.

Depending on events it may be a case that might have to spread towards the Brexit press whether they like it or not.

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