Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Governments in difficulty frequently announce unpopular decisions when the news media is saturated with coverage of a headline-grabbing story.

Space is usually very limited on such occasions and astute information officers hope their troublesome announcements will merit no more than a few sentences tucked away on an inside page.

Across Whitehall this routine has been imbedded within ministerial offices but the true masters of “burying bad news” are Brexit-supporting newspapers which have become so partisan these manipulative tricks are now an everyday occurrence.

Slavish support for Boris Johnson’s general election mantra of “Get Brexit Done” has necessitated the same finessing of what the Tory press presents as news – or dismisses as unimportant or leaves out altogether.

Liberal Democrats have grown accustomed over the years to press coverage that usually ignores their policies or belittles their party leader.

The traditional tabloid path – unless there is an incident that can be whipped up into a scandal – is to treat the Lib Dems as a footnote, meriting no more than a few sentences at the bottom of the page.

Jo Swinson has at least benefited from the recent moderation in language being used to challenge women in politics.

She has not been subjected to the full panoply of cruel jibes and crude headlines that were regularly deployed to ridicule her predecessors, Nick Clegg and the late Paddy Ashdown.

But whereas headline writers and her political opponents are on their guard to avoid sexist attacks, women diarists and columnists writing for the Tory press – sometimes known as the queens of mean – had no intention of expressing sisterly solidarity.

When reporting the televised debates that have made such a welcome re-appearance in the 2019 general election, Conservative-supporting newspapers have – to quote Boris Johnson – an “oven ready” recipe for delivering yet another demolition job on Jeremy Corbyn.

Whatever the reality of the confrontation that has taken place, the tricks of the trade of tabloid reporting can be manipulated to achieve the desired outcome: Corbyn trashed and humiliated, out punched and outclassed by Johnson.

Even before a debate has taken place, an anti-Corbyn agenda is trailed in advance: readers have been forewarned of the lies and evasions they can expect as Johnson puts the Labour leader on the spot.

Snap opinion polls of viewers are another device for strengthening the pre-determined narrative and headlines. Unfavourable results can be over-looked, or the surveys twisted to suit the story line.

Nigel Farage, for so long the hero of the Brexiteers, has finally been well and truly trashed by the Tory tabloids, his erstwhile cheerleaders.

In Boris Johnson’s hour of need, Farage has been abandoned by newspapers that once went to the utmost lengths to promote his cheeky-chappie bloke-next-door image, pint of beer in hand.

When the Conservative Party is desperate for every vote to deliver Johnson’s deal for the UK to exit the European Union by 31 January 2020, Farage became expendable, tossed aside into an already overflowing bin of broken Brexit promises.

Ready to “die in a ditch” with Boris Johnson the closer it gets to polling day are his blood brothers, a taxi rank of highly-paid wordsmiths able to twist and turn the daily news agenda as they strive to deliver a Conservative victory and get Brexit over the line.

Johnson has always been their hero, the Brexiteer-in-chief for much of the media class, a journalist admired for his wizardry in delivering an endless stream of anti-European Union exclusives about the mad machinations of the Brussels bureaucracy – the fake news of his day.

In his hour of need, columnists and feature writers employed by hard line Brexit-supporting newspapers – Daily Mail, Daily Express, Sun and Daily Telegraph – are only too happy to follow in his footsteps, able within a matter of hours to pull together an election story line into a hard-hitting column or feature.