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This is an Information War not an Election

So many paediatric A&E and PICU nurses with such a strong online presence.

This Smear Election is so riddled with disinformation it may not be happening at all. As  [somebody’s] bots spammed out a spool of the same claims to try and derail the chilling photograph of four-year old Jack Williment-Barr sleeping under coats on a hospital floor in Leeds as he waited for a bed, despite having suspected pneumonia, you realised that whatever happens, the Conservatives campaign is over.

It’s not been a disaster in the way Theresa May’s was a disaster in 2017, touring the country trying to say nothing at all, shuddering with awkwardness and huddling in contrived Tory set-piece closed-door vignettes. No, this is a Boris-style disaster full of the unquestioned bravado of unmitigated privilege.

Disinformation 1: The photograph of Jack was a blow to the Conservatives on their weakest front, the total lack of public trust about their intentions for the NHS, and underlying that, their callous uncaring attitude about anyone who is vulnerable. It’s a scoop and a karmic revenge for the Daily Mirror, which is having a good election. After being banned from the Tories campaign bus for being proper journalists, the Mirror has hit back with a series of hard-hitting front-page stories.

It was followed up with ITV’s Joe Pike’s devastating confrontation of the Prime Minister, (looking Prime Ministerial presumably) as he first refused to look at the photograph then stole the reporters phone. The clip has now been seen by 8.7 million viewers and been re-tweeted 50k times.

That’s why the Clone Army was heralded.

But then the Tories spin machine began falling apart.

Disinformation 2: Matt Hancock, fresh from hanging about Fraserburgh harbour contemplating the value of our precious Union,  was sped across to Leeds Hospital to take charge of the situation.

Sensing that the news day was falling apart for them the Tories resorted to briefing senior journalists (among them Laura Kuensberg and Robert Peston) that a Tory aide was “punched” outside the hospital by a leftwing activist, “a Labour Party thug”.

The claims were a complete fabrication as was exposed when video footage showed that the adviser was accidentally brushed in the face.

Kuenssberg and Peston are now full of (semi) remorse and rueful apologies, but their reach is huge (they both have over 1 million followers on Twitter) and they are considered by many to be reliable sources. They are after all the political editors of the BBC and ITV. Who wouldn’t trust them?

For the avoidance of any doubt: the fake news claiming that the sick boy on the floor of a hospital in leeds was staged by his mother is completely made-up. We know the story is real, and Dr Yvette Oade, the Chief Medical Officer at Leeds hospital has apologised. But the stories out there now.

The identical tweet claiming the mother staged the photo has been circulated on Twitter to millions of people. It’s copied and pasted, the accounts are targeting various influencers and it’s spewing out into the world two days before an election.

Facebook is worse.

In the face of this, valiant efforts like Channel 4s Fact Check, Full Fact (the UK’s fact-checking charity) or the Ferret’s Fact Service check try and stem the flow. But in a post-factual world, who cares?

Full Fact stated:

“Earlier today many senior political journalists reported that a Labour activist punched an aide to Conservative Health Secretary Matt Hancock while he was visiting a hospital in Leeds.”

“This did not happen.”

But this is a post-truth world in which Michael Deacon, parliamentary sketchwriter for The Daily Telegraph, has written “Facts are negative. Facts are pessimistic. Facts are unpatriotic.”

Nothing could confirm this more than the Tories masquerading their Twitter account as a Fact Checking service.

Nothing Has Changed

This story, although it seems like the worst of a new form of disinformation has echoes back to 1992 when Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party issued a broadcast attacking the privatisation of the NHS under the Conservative government of John Major. The broadcast was based on the case of a five-year-old girl called Jennifer, who at the time of the election had been waiting eleven months for a simple operation on her ear.

Like today, the Conservatives and the media, sensing crisis, went into over-drive. The next morning, just a few hours after the broadcast, the story exploded in the Daily Express under the dramatic headline of ‘EXPOSED: Labour’s Sick NHS Stunts’.

Like today, the Labour Party are trying to defend the last vestiges of publicly cherished infrastructure in Britain. The NHS is the Black Rhino of public services and it has been contested since its inception.

This continuity (1992 – 2019) exposes the vulnerable underbelly of the Conservatives and the vultures of privatisation circling in the world of Brexit and US trade deals – versus the reality that the enthusiasm for privatisation has waned after three decades of experiencing its results.

Ever Diminishing Circles

This is all feeling quite dark. If its comic and chaotic it’s also serious.

The army of former paediatric A&E nurses are marching into a million Facebook conversations. Some will pick up that it’s a fabrication, many will not.

How did we get here?

The Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich first used the term post-truth in a 1992 essay in The Nation but we can see the ever decreasing circles emerging from key moments. Mine are: the General Belgrano reporting in the Falklands to the big lies of the Iraq War; to Swiftboating and the Trump-Brexit axis of lies; to the Cambridge Analytica black-ops to the coverage of the independence referendum.

We can see stage-posts of the the disintegration of public standards in politics and media.

Michael Gove’s comment in an interview that “I think people in this country have had enough of experts…” has to be a marker point in this process.

Ever-present in this process has been The Sun which this week published an “exclusive” about a “hard-left extremist network” at the heart of the Labour Party. The piece directed readers towards a website featuring a network map that it said had been compiled by ex-military veterans “in their spare time” to reveal “what they insist is now a party firmly in the grip of a hardline cabal”.

It was a fabrication worthy of Steve Bannon.

As the story was exposed to be riddled with mad conspiracies and extreme rightwing material among their sources, it was quickly removed from the paper’s site – but without acknowledgement or explanation from the papers Political Editor, Tom Newton Dunn.

How did we get here?

The term “post-truth politics” was coined by the writer David Roberts in an article for Grist in 2010. Roberts defined it as “a political culture in which politics (public opinion and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the substance of legislation)”. It’s this world this grim election is grinding out in. It’s a world swirling with birtherism, climate change denial, flat-earth and anti-vaxx memes, and chemtrails. It’s a toxic synergy of conspiracy and tribalism, paranoia and bad faith mediated through the silo world of social media and energised by peoples increasing desperation. We quickly reach an end-point where all journalists are scum and all politicians are evil (except our own who are infallible). It’s a form of infantilism.

It’s not all dark.

It can be argued that the Tory lies and spin of yesterday were exposed by social media as much as they were dispatched by them.

But if bots and Tory liars and a compliant media are imposing this post-truth era on us, we are also complicit in sustaining it. As author and musician Darren McGarvey puts it:

“To beat fake news, we have to want the truth more than we want certain things to be true. We tend to draw attention to the fake news others buy into and spread. But the truth is: we’ve all done it. Fake news thrives on partisanship and confirmation bias. We all need to do better.”

 

Comments (32)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    We used to laugh at “Big Brother” and it could never happen here. The “Ministry of Truth” is in business and spouting “Newspeak” at full volume.

  2. Jo says:

    Surely the biggest lie/smear of all concerns anti-Semitism, a smear now four years old and tended lovingly by many within the PLP, the BBC, and others, on a daily basis, ever since.

    In case people forget, here’s a link to secretary of state’s (Mike Pompeo) meeting with Jewish Leaders to discuss how to take Corbyn out of the running. In the recording Pompeo makes it clear he’s aware of the ongoing attempts to bring Corbyn down.

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/09/mike-pompeo-leaked-recording-corbyn-labour-jewish-leaders

    1. james gourlay says:

      They are conflating anti-semitism with criticism of the Israeli government. The Israeli gov is racist and is a terrorist organisation.

      I may not like Corbyn but he’s not anti-semitic. Neither are the other two who were dumped from the Scottish gov.

      1. “Neither are the other two who were dumped from the Scottish gov.”
        Who do you mean James?

      2. Jo says:

        James
        The wording of the IHRA “definition” of anti-Semitism is problematic for many people, understandably. It has been put together to silence people and it’s quite disgraceful, and worrying, that anyone who points this out is immediately smeared with a very damaging label.

    2. florian albert says:

      ‘the biggest lie/smear concerns anti-semitism, a smear now four years old and lovingly tended by many within the PLP, the BBC’

      Just to clarify matters, are you saying that accusations of anti-semitism within the Labour Party, while Jeremy Corbyn has been leader, are bogus and have been deliberately invented to discredit him ?
      That is the way it comes across to me.

      1. Jo says:

        Florian

        I think the original post makes clear what I meant. The link I provided tells us a great deal too. My response to James Gourlay adds some more. I don’t think further clarity is required.

        1. florian albert says:

          ‘ the biggest lie/smear concerns antisemitism’

          What can reasonably be described as the Jewish establishment, the Chief Rabbi and the Jewish Chronicle, are at the heart of the campaign against antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party. You are making the claim that the Jeremy Corbyn is the victim of a Jewish conspiracy.
          We went down that road in the first half of the 20th century. Keeping in mind how that ended, I thought we would be spared a replay in the 21st century.

          1. Dougie Blackwood says:

            I reluctantly dip my toe into this cesspit. I have nothing against the Jewish people, the Jewish religion or any other religious group. I am however appalled by the actions of the state of Israel against those Palestinian people within it’s illegally expanded borders.

            In my view Jeremy Corbyn is being pilloried because he made his views on Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians clear in contravention of the decree contained within the IHRA definition. I do not accept that it antisemitism to speak out against these actions and I fear we are marching down the road to where the ethnic cleansing of the land between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea is accepted by all of our politicians.

            Who speaks up for those Palestinians herded into concentration camps in both Gaza and ever shrinking, fenced enclaves on the West Bank.

          2. Jo says:

            Florian

            I’m not going to rise to the bait.

            I will, however, point out to you that many Jewish people opposed the position taken by the Jewish Chronicle and the Chief Rabbi in their attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.

          3. Jo says:

            Dougie

            I share your reluctance to get into this subject but, wait, isn’t it frightening that we feel that way? Yet this is the situation that’s been deliberately created in order to silence people and ensure they stay quiet.

            Presumably every UN resolution ever passed condemning the actions of the state of Israel was rooted in anti-Semitism? Under the IHRA definition, it was.

            Interesting times, terrifying too for those who believe that justice is for all.

          4. Jo says:

            Florian
            I just read your earlier response and I missed, initially, the implications of something you said.

            “You are making the claim that the Jeremy Corbyn is the victim of a Jewish conspiracy.”

            I said no such thing! Please tread warily before throwing reckless allegations at people and woefully misquoting them.

            I said,

            “Surely the biggest lie/smear of all concerns anti-Semitism, a smear now four years old and tended lovingly by many within the PLP, the BBC, and others, on a daily basis, ever since.”

  3. Wullie says:

    Meanwhile, nearer home, Ruth Davidson plans a Westminster seat sometime & as the Tory leader with least experience of government she claims that this will be a big plus!

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      Wullie, saw yesterday that it looks like Ruthie Tank Commander has been recruited to ITV’s election results team.

      1. Jo says:

        She’s also threatening to skinny dip in Loch Ness!

  4. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Incisive content, Mike. Bang-on.

  5. Wul says:

    Hawd on!

    Did this Alison Pearson “journalist” not think it strange that three ex-A&E nurses, all with different names, sent her identically worded messages? And that met her criteria for “100%” proof?

    I do hope Santa is good to her.

    1. James Mills says:

      In the same vein , did senior journalists ( Kuensberg and Peston ) not think to challenge or investigate a claim put out by ”senior Conservatives ” in the dying days of an election dominated by Fake news from many sources , not least the Conservative Party HQ ?

      Surely even a trainee journalist might think to check her sources before committing her reputation to a ”story ” issued by a body of people representing a leader whose relationship with the truth is …. remote !

      1. Wul says:

        I can’t really understand it. Unless it IS deliberate mis-information. Occam’s Razor suggests that is the most likely explanation.

        There appears to be some kind of “get out” for journalists whereby they can post subjective, personal opinion and rumour on Twitter, like any ordinary Joe, but still retain the authority and credibility ( and followers) lent them by their day job. Andrew Neil is a prime example.

        If Kuenssberg puts the letters “BBC” in her Twitter handle ( “@bbclaurak” ) then she should be held to the same rigorous standard as a 6pm ,BBC1 News bulletin. ( the Tweets probably reach a wider audience, so even more need for rigour)

        PS: Thanks for the various links Jo, I’ve benefitted from reading them)

  6. Hamish100 says:

    It appears part of the media war has been lost to the britnats.
    Who & How?
    Well, Wings Over Scotland chieftan has just came out again attacking the main party of independence . Yip 2 days before a General Election. In part it would seem for his apparent dislike of the First Minister. Does he not like women in power some may ask?
    So an Indy blog has been turned. Thankfully the FM and her main team while on television and ready in the main have done a grand job. Listen to the applause given to them by audiences in England. I have no doubt it has rubbed onto some Scots.
    The SNP has to persuade the undecided and the waverers not the committed independence supporter.
    Luckily, It can ignore web based sites based in Bath, England and its reducing band of acolytes. How sad, never mind, Oh dear!

  7. Jo says:

    Meanwhile, things get even worse at the Herald. They’ll soon be moving premises into a phone box at this rate!

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-50727975

  8. Jo says:

    Well, Kuennsberg is undaunted.

    She’s just reported in to Politics Live to tell them that those trusted “sources” of hers have information about the postal votes and, “it’s looking grim for Labour.”

    So there you are, more unverified “news” from Kuennsberg, this time, on something that the Parties aren’t even meant to have access to…postal votes.

    1. MBC says:

      Davidson said the same at the indyref and was never held to account for it. No-one should have been looking at or have access to the postal votes before the official count.

      1. Jo says:

        True MBC. It’s disgraceful.

  9. MBC says:

    Yes, scary, I agree. But was it not ever thus? What about the Zinoviev letter? Or the rumour that sparked the French Revolution? (That the aristocrats had begun slaughtering the peasants).

  10. MBC says:

    Has anybody been following the Yorkshire Post? After the incident with the wee boy and the coats at Leeds General, which YP broke, the editor has come out full blast against this stuff and tweeted ‘never again should the people of this country have to navigate through such a maelstrom of disinformation in order to decide for whom to vote’. Well said! These regional papers may be powerful voices in the fight back. Not sure who owns the YP but maybe not the Big Four. Maybe we should be allying ourselves with what fragments of independent journalism are still alive in the provinces distant from the London bubble?

    1. Jo says:

      Yes indeed.

      I believe it was a journalist from the Telegraph who claimed that the mother of the wee boy had “set up” the story. Shocking.

      1. David Allan says:

        “A BIG LIE” is a propaganda technique, the expression coined by Hitler in Mein Kampf,about use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone ” could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”. I’ll omit the detail of Hitler’s example.

        There’s been a few Big Lies out there and the Journos responsible should be made to publicly apologise for fanning the flames without a genuine attempt to establish the veracity of their story or it’s source.

        Fake news has almost now become the norm.

        What a wonderful beacon of democracy we all live in !

  11. florian albert says:

    Jo

    Re your comment on 13 December at 9.40pm

    You object to my statement; “You are making the claim that Jeremy Corbyn is the victim of a Jewish conspiracy.”

    Your response is; “I said no such thing.” Plainly that is correct but it does not make what you DID say acceptable. I did not misquote you. I drew a conclusion from what you wrote.

    My point was – and is – that what it was entirely reasonable, in fact unavoidable, to draw the conclusion I drew from your original comment.
    That is why I gave you the opportunity to modify your comment. When given that chance, you did not do so.

    In passing, your original comment strikes me as the antithesis of treading warely.

    1. Lori says:

      Chief Rabbi is a good friend and supporter of Boris and the tories so his opinion should not be taken as an independent one. Laura Kuenssberg should be sacked – she’s the antithesis of decent journalism

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