There are liars and then there’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove

Nick Cohen in The Guardian:

The media do not damn themselves, so I am speaking out of turn when I say that if you think rule by professional politicians is bad wait until journalist politicians take over. Johnson and Gove are the worst journalist politicians you can imagine: pundits who have prospered by treating public life as a game. Here is how they play it. They grab media attention by blaring out a big, dramatic thought. An institution is failing? Close it. A public figure blunders? Sack him. They move from journalism to politics, but carry on as before. When presented with a bureaucratic EU that sends us too many immigrants, they say the answer is simple, as media answers must be. Leave. Now. Then all will be well.

Johnson and Gove carried with them a second feature of unscrupulous journalism: the contempt for practical questions. Never has a revolution in Britain’s position in the world been advocated with such carelessness. The Leave campaign has no plan. And that is not just because there was a shamefully under-explored division between the bulk of Brexit voters who wanted the strong welfare state and solid communities of their youth and the leaders of the campaign who wanted Britain to become an offshore tax haven. Vote Leave did not know how to resolve difficulties with Scotland, Ireland, the refugee camp at Calais, and a thousand other problems, and did not want to know either.

It responded to all who predicted the chaos now engulfing us like an unscrupulous pundit who knows that his living depends on shutting up the experts who gainsay him. For why put the pundit on air, why pay him a penny, if experts can show that everything he says is windy nonsense? The worst journalists, editors and broadcasters know their audiences want entertainment, not expertise. If you doubt me, ask when you last saw panellists on Question Timewho knew what they were talking about.

Naturally, Michael Gove, former Times columnist, responded to the thousands of economists who warned he was taking an extraordinary risk with the sneer that will follow him to his grave: “People in this country have had enough of experts.” He’s being saying the same for years.

If sneers won’t work, the worst journalists lie. The Times fired Johnson for lying to its readers. Michael Howard fired Johnson for lying to him. When he’s cornered, Johnson accuses others of his own vices, as unscrupulous journalists always do. Those who question him are the true liars, he blusters, whose testimony cannot be trusted because, as he falsely said of the impeccably honest chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, they are “stooges”.

Peter Preston also writes on the dangers of columnists in politics.

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