This post isn’t directly climate-related, but it’s about a tactic used in the news media where considerable scepticism is warranted. I’m not sure if its use is increasing, or if I’m just noticing it more.
Here is the top BBC Radio 4 News headline presented at 7am this morning on the Today Programme:
Two EU leaders have backed another referendum on Brexit. One said there was almost unanimous support among them for the idea.
This was immediately followed by the more detailed news that started with
Two EU leaders have said publicly that they would like to see the UK hold another referendum on Brexit in the hope of reversing the result. The Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, told this programme that most of his counterparts would like the almost impossible to happen…
Is your internal bullshit klaxon going off yet? Firstly there’s the question of the opinion of the Prime Minister of Malta (population less than that of Cardiff) on a decision made by the UK being elevated to the top of the headlines. But the real issue here is in the phrase “told this programme”. The news headline was created by the BBC from an interview that they chose to conduct.
The modus operandi for what I will call “fabricated news” – not the same thing as “fake news” – seems to be as follows:
- Decide on an issue that you wish to promote, in this case the call for a second referendum, the so-called “people’s vote”.
- Conduct an interview with someone, whose opinion you already know, on this topic.
- Get them to say what you want them to say, maybe with a bit of prompting if necessary.
- When they say it, extract that bit from your interview, and make it your headline news story.
The fabricated story was returned to repeatedly throughout the Today Programme.
At 7:09, (that’s about 1:09 in the i-player link), the presenter Martha Kearney said
Two EU prime ministers have told this programme that they would like the UK to hold another referendum on Brexit. It’s a pretty unusual intervention and one unlikely to be welcomed by Theresa May…
Err, no, they didn’t “intervene”, Martha, you went out and interviewed them and picked out one thing that they said to create your bogus headline.
Just after this, there was almost an admission that this was a non-story, from BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg:
They don’t like how people in Britain voted, and over the last two years when you’ve talked to EU officials or diplomats in private one of the things they’ve always actually asked Brits is, could there be another referendum, is there a way to stop this, so in that sense it’s not that surprising they had that sentiment…
If you want to hear the actual interviews, the one with the prime minister of the Czech Republic is at 1:34, and the Malta one at about 2:15. Guido has partial clips and transcripts.
If you listen from 2:10 you can hear that Kearney talked to the minister from Luxembourg, and Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the EU Parliament, and the Slovakian and Polish Prime Ministers. None of them mentioned a second referendum. I wonder how many people she had to talk to before she got the comments about a second referendum.