The real peddlers of fake news

Forget Russian bots or dodgy news sites – the UK's own media establishment has spread most of the bullshit this election.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics UK

Boris-boosting Twitter was suddenly abuzz. There were rumours a female Tory activist had been subject to an acid attack in Barnet, in north London. It was quickly picked up by the Sun and the Daily Mail. The details were sketchy. No matter. It was a potentially massive story, one that confirmed what publications’ journalists already thought. That this is a peculiarly nasty, divisive election, and someone was always going to get it. Back on Twitter, some journos and blue-tickers were also getting excited. They knew this was a moment.

But then, as it tends to, the truth willed itself out, and the journos wilted. There was no politically motivated acid attack. It turns out a woman had been sprayed with perfume by a group of youths. That was it. No acid. No virulent anti-Toryism. Just a bunch of stupid teenagers with too much cologne.

This whole micro-affair captured the odd behaviour of the mainstream media and its blue-ticked enablers during this election campaign. The basics of journalism – sourcing and verifying stories – have been eclipsed by something else: a thirst for immediate sensation; a hunger for manufactured confrontation; and – most important and unforgivable of all – a staggering credulity. A willingness, that is, to believe something has been said or has happened because it confirms journalists’ prejudices, because it fits their narrative.

The irony won’t be lost on some that at the start of the election campaign, Remainers were busy telling us for the umpteenth time since they lost the EU referendum that the Russians would be interfering in the election. Their bot farms would be spreading misinformation and fake news. Their paid-for flunkeys would be pumping out lies. We would be confused, deceived and unable to see the truth for the fiction. But, as it turns out, the Kremlin needn’t have bothered. Our media establishment has been doing a perfectly good job of spreading bullshit all by itself.

Think of the Spad attack that never was. On Monday, in response to the reports that a seriously ill boy had been left on floor of Leeds General Infirmary, health secretary Matt Hancock headed to Leeds to express his sympathy, demand something be done, promise funds, etc. A group of Labour activists also headed to Leeds General to heckle Hancock. Tedious but standard stuff. Then something happened. Both the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg and ITV’s political editor Robert Peston reported that things had ‘turned nasty’. A Corbynista had hit Hancock’s special adviser. Cue meltdown.

But it hadn’t happened. The police confirmed there had been no reports of an incident. And footage showed Hancock’s adviser merely walking into the outstretched arm of an activist. No punches. No blood. And no incident. Yet two of the most senior journalists from the UK’s two principal broadcasters had carried reports that there had been an attack. Just on the say-so of ‘Tory sources’. It beggars belief. They had been credulous where they should have been sceptical. Eager where they should have been circumspect. To them the story of the Spad attack clearly felt true, because it confirmed their suspicions of crazy Corbynistas. So they treated it as if it was true.

Or take Channel 4 News’s decision to tweet out a subtitled video of Boris Johnson talking of immigration and allowing in ‘people of colour’. If it wanted something to go viral on Twitter, dominated as it is by the underemployed and over-graduated denizens of Corbyngrad, this was it. Proof that Boris was still a big old racist. Tweeple predictably lapped it up, as Boris revealed that he was the ‘VILE RACIST!’ they always knew he was. Except, as we now know, he didn’t say ‘people of colour’. He said ‘people of talent’. As he had done throughout the election campaign.

So why on Earth did Channel 4 News see and hear an alternative reality? Why, given it was about to call the prime minister racist, did it not check to see if he really had said that. It is because, as Brendan O’Neill pointed out at the time, so certain were the journos at Channel 4 News that Boris is a racist, and so willing were they to see racism everywhere, that they literally created the reality they wanted. They produced, in the shape of a viral video, what they wanted to be true.

Ever since the populist revolt of 2016, members of media establishment have talked of the dangers of fake news. They have warned of unreputable news outlets spreading misinformation and lies. And they have arrogated to themselves the mantle of respectable, truth-seeking journalism. This election gives the lie to that self-description. What fake news there has been has come not from Russia, or media outriders. It has come from the heart of the media establishment.

Yes, the political parties themselves have had rather loose relationships with the truth this election. But then again, when haven’t they? What’s different is the inability of the mainstream media to hold them to account, with too many journos taking sides rather than issue with the parties’ competing versions of the truth.

More importantly, the media seem to have wanted to become the story. Whether it has been a journalist, in search of a reaction, wafting an image of NHS underfunding under the nose of Boris Johnson, an interviewer empty-chairing an absent interviewee, or a misleadingly subtitled speech, too many reporters seem to have a rather too high opinion of themselves. They have forgotten the role of the journalist. They are no longer reporting and analysing the news. They are making it. And, all too frequently, they are actually making it up.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


B Fullerton

17th December 2019 at 10:26 am

“If it wanted something to go viral on Twitter, dominated as it is by the underemployed and over-graduated denizens of Corbyngrad, this was it.”
Brilliant and spot on.
As for Twitter……the only people who use it are Tw**s

Michael Lynch

13th December 2019 at 1:15 am

Watched BBC tonight and saw the reaction of the crowd outside Broadcasting House when they announced the Exit Poll result. They started to cheer during the count down to 10pm and then came the collective gasp as they announced the result. It was priceless television; the London bubble being burst was beautiful to witness. Also watching now at the reactions of Labour politicians being interviewed; lots and lots of lemons in mouths. Brilliant! Best night on the Beeb for years and years.

Female Penis

12th December 2019 at 8:46 pm

I’ve got a horrible feeling,looking at the queues I reckon they’ve got the young vote out.
if the electorate that want Brexit blow it tonight, I’m done tbh.
I shall retire from political life *posting on comment sections and reddit 😂
Seriously though if we blow it, we’ll have exhausted our resources and we can sit back and watch Corbyn and McDonnell tank the economy.

James Knight

12th December 2019 at 6:48 pm

It is not new. In 1974 The Guardian warned us that satellite data told us we are heading to an imminent Ice Age. Then in 2004 the US Guardian had the breath-taking gullibility to regurgitate this:

“A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a ‘Siberian’ climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world”

So we only have a couple of weeks or so before the UK should be locked into a Siberian climate.

More recently the Guardian made a big splash from an “Alliance of Scientists” which turned out to be an alliance of anyone with an internet connection scared of global warming.

Meanwhile the Independent, always keen to challenge fake news, reported in 2000 that “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”, “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is”, quoting a climate scientist from the University of East Anglia (where else?).

They will never be accountable for their lies and fake news. And of course they will censor people who challenge it. They think they are above social media, but in fact they are no better than anything from the bottom of the social media swamp.

See also 50 years of lies, a perspective on how the mainstream media pumped out lies and fake news long before social media existed:

H McLean

12th December 2019 at 10:41 pm

Today here in Australia we have the ABC pushing a story that we are about to face the hottest day in the history of the country. They get this story from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which, like NASA and NOAA in the USA, has been systematically altering historical temperature records to suit their climate doomsday narrative. The story is clearly fake news but while the ABC is government funded, it is controlled and populated with far far left activists who never fail to promote climate change alarmism.

Fake News: Australia could see hottest day on record –

Debunking the Lies: Hiding The Hot Past –

Mark Pawelek

14th December 2019 at 12:40 pm

“major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a ‘Siberian’ climate by 2020”

<– PS: That is impossible. Rising seas are caused by warming oceans. Because water expands when it warms. A Siberian climate implies colder oceans, so a shrinking shoreline.

Climate reporting is a special kind of fake news where many of the so-called experts are in on it too. It's cause by politicos wanting to hear that people change the climate. Expert modelers write models describing such a human-caused climate. They self-validate their own models; as they are the "experts"! Then call it "settled science". Media simply report the establishment narrative; but also refuse to give a voice to anyone daring to contradict the so-called settled science of incompetent models made to extract grant money from grant-givers looking for climate doom. The whole is institutionalised groupthink.

Jim Lawrie

12th December 2019 at 6:18 pm

“They are no longer reporting and analysing the news. They are making it.”
You omitted the word ‘up’ from the end of that last sentence.

I find it quite galling that I can run through many economics claims in my head and know them not to be true. I assume that these claims are checked checked by professionals and that their warnings are overruled by editors who now are political commissars. Media hosts think themselves economically literate because with all the data in front of them on a screen and assistance via an earpiece, they make much of a politician not knowing just one of these facts.

The BBC made Chernobyl , a damning portrayal of society run by bureaucrats under the authority of political correctness, yet do the self same thing themselves with almost everything they produce. Like the Communists that they are, they know best what is for our own good.

Pragmatix Pragmatix

12th December 2019 at 5:52 pm

There is in Britain today, no such thing as news: papers and main broadcasters spout “Views”.

The singular most critical aspect missing, now, is cogent honest and real analysis.

Gareth Hart

12th December 2019 at 4:45 pm

Something is very, very wrong with public service broadcasting in the UK. If they don’t take heed, a future Government will take the axe to the lot of them.

M Blando

12th December 2019 at 5:45 pm

What I find interesting is that despite the much voiced problems the media outlets have faced with their new world of revenue generation, in the brave new social media age, they set out to simply become another social media channel.

They reproduce unquestioningly the social domain (which is gossip), rather than act as a news domain. You’d have thought they’d understand that it’s not going to help them survive commercially. What ‘unique value’ are they providing that customers will pay for, if it’s simply regurgitated social media gossip?

A few such as Spiked seem to undertsand something of this.

M Blando

12th December 2019 at 7:56 pm

Odd… this wasn’t in response to anyone. I know it’s been moderated… seems it’s been moved and assigned too.

Ven Oods

13th December 2019 at 4:30 pm

“seems it’s been moved and assigned too.”

Fake mooves?

Pragmatix Pragmatix

12th December 2019 at 5:50 pm

The extreme Left attitude of the BBC in particular, can be traced back to BLiar and the lies he spouted about the supposed (False) “sexed up” dossier concerning WMD. Plus, of course, the Gilligan affair.

I is clear BLiar threatened senior BBC honchos with the sack unless they became the covert PR agency for NuLab.

Thereafter, Channel 4 “News” and the odious Kathy Newman, Snow et al, spread the Marxist- Left pretend Liberal cant.

Will any future government change the Beeb’s charter? doubtful, I fear.

jan mozelewski

13th December 2019 at 4:52 pm

One of the most striking themes of this result has been how often I am seeing reference to the BBC, it’s bias, and a wish for the Gov to review the licence fee. That is very telling. That amidst all this, the BBC (and also Channel 4) are in the public consciousness in such a way. It gives the lie to any claim the BBC has to be neutral….because it is not perceived as such by so many people.
The licence fee’s days are numbered.

cliff resnick

13th December 2019 at 7:25 pm

Well it may be news to you but as a Jew I’m still waiting for the Balen Repost to be published, this was a report commissioned by the BBC itself, appro in 2004, into its own alleged anti institutionalised biased against Israel You want to know where the virulent anti-Israel ideology of the left has come from, I would say decades of bias dished up by the BBC once Australian veteran anti-Israel journalist John Pilger made it trendy in the early seventies.

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