Friday 29 May 2020

An op-ed and a monologue.

“Good evening, Dominic Cummings broke the rules. The country can see that. And it's shocking the government can not. The longer ministers - and prime minister - tell us he worked within them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be. He was the man - remember - who always 'got' the public mood. Who tagged the lazy label of 'elite' on those who disagreed. He should understand that public mood now: one of fury, contempt and anguish. He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools. And has allowed many more to assume they can now flout them. The prime minister knows all this. But despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his backbenchers, a dramatic early warning from the polls, and a deep national disquiet, Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it. Tonight we consider what this blind loyalty tells us about the workings of Number 10. We do not expect to be joined by a government minister. But that wont stop us asking the questions.  

The people who defend Emily Maitlis’s monologue by claiming she was “merely telling the truth” are wrong. The monologue was riddled with opinion. 

There is some confusion here. In the above transcription we have, "it's shocking the government can not.”  Whereas in another one I find: "It’s [the public is] shocked that the government cannot…
If the former is accurate, then who’s to say what the country can and cannot see? Is it Emily Maitlis’s place to judge whether something *is* shocking? If the latter is correct, it’s still presumptuous to speak for the country.  I suppose she could legitimately have said “I’m shocked”, (still a breach of impartiality, but honest at least) otherwise it’s just spin. 

Calling the whole affair a ‘scandal’ is also an opinion, and in this particular context the term ‘lazy’ is simply an opinion, not ‘a fact’.

A clearer demonstration of where personal opinion overrides impartiality is the assumption that ‘the anger’ is directed at the government for prolonging the issue by refusing to bow to (the media’s) demands to sack Cummings, when much of the anger we now see is directed at the media for prolonging it with its persistent demands that Cummings is sacked.

Broadcasting assertive pronouncements about the mood of the public exposes extraordinarily deluded levels of BBC groupthink and the Newsnight crew must by now be aware that much of the “fury, contempt and anguish” is boomeranging back at them.

Maitlis even seemed to be offering free justification to anyone who wants to flout the lockdown strategy. Lastly, that passive-aggressive, pretendy to be hurty snipe about being snubbed by the government was ill-judged. 

Here’s my monologue for the day:

The internet and social media provide a platform to all and sundry to spout their stupid opinions all over the internet - that means people like me get equal billing with experts who know things - but an even bigger downside of unmoderated freedom of expression is that nuanced opinion has disappeared from the normal discourse. Half-measures are extinct. All nuance is now a big bore.

It works like this. Should someone publicly express a belief that - say, Donald Trump’s Middle East strategy is a fundamental improvement on - say, Barack Obama’s Iran-friendly one, it’s taken as read that they also enjoy hideous bling and incontinent, limited-vocabulary midnight Tweeting. 

Similarly, it's hard to uncouple support (in principle) of Boris’s decision to stand by Dominic Cummings from blinkered refusal to spot any flaws in his defence.

However, on one important point, I think Maitlis is correct.  As Dominic Cummings is involved in devising government strategy, a job that necessarily entails gauging public opinion,  misjudging the public mood so badly does damage his credibility. Cavalierly risking a non-essential recreational jaunt, then offering a far-fetched excuse is certainly dumb enough to make me feel uncomfortable about the extent of his influence on government policy.

But still, I hope Boris sticks to his decision. To cave in to the BBC would really signal the beginning of the end or maybe the end of the beginning, and badly misjudging the mood of the public applies equally to Maitlis and the BBC, if not more so (Times (£)) than it does to Cummings.  

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