Pot, meet kettle: New York Times reporter Stephen Castle unwisely waded into a media bias debate in his “Memo from Britain” on Friday, “’Brexit’ Vote Gives Tabloids Chance to Unleash Anti-European Tendencies.”
And it also gave the Times a chance to unleash its snooty anti-tabloid tendencies -- especially against right-leaning papers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express that support "Brexit" -- England leaving the European Union. (Last month Castle was hailing London’s new Muslim mayor’s triumph over “Islamophobia.”)
An online text box was particularly rich: “Britain’s freewheeling tabloid press has never been shy about pushing an agenda.” As if that’s not precisely what the Times does every day of the year.
Britons could lose control of their coastline. Their country could be scrapped or merged with France. And a nation in which tea-making is a daily ritual faces the prospect of a ban on its kettles.
Over recent years The Daily Express, a newspaper with a print circulation of around 400,000, and its sibling, the Sunday Express, have made little secret of their antipathy to the European Union, presenting it as the source of a variety of such unlikely assaults on Britain and all things British.
But with a June 23 referendum looming on whether Britain should stay in the 28-nation bloc, The Express has moved up another gear, urging readers to display a window sticker in favor of quitting, or -- in the paper’s words -- to “STICK IT TO THE EU!”
Britain’s freewheeling tabloid press has never been shy about pushing an agenda. But the debate on withdrawal from the European Union -- known as Brexit -- has given some papers a particular opportunity to unleash their nationalist and anti-European tendencies.
Facing declining circulation and ruthless digital competition, the nation’s newspaper industry has ceded some of the power it once held to shape public opinion. But the hostility of some papers to the European Union is nonetheless a problem for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is engaged in a ferocious struggle to persuade Britons to vote to remain in the bloc.
One recent study found that of 928 articles focused on the referendum, 45 percent were in favor of leaving with 27 percent for staying (19 percent were categorized as “mixed or undecided,” and 9 percent as adopting no position).
That seems pretty balanced, compared to U.S. media coverage of political issues and parties, as the Media Research Center has spent decades documenting.
For pro-Europeans, the tabloid onslaught seems wearingly familiar. “Some parts of the British media do quite frequently refer back to the Second World War as the context of the discussion,” Charles Clarke, a former Labour cabinet minister, said at a recent conference, adding that “the virulence” of the way in which some papers seek to set the agenda about Europe has affected the British political debate.
For critics of press standards, this type of coverage from the tabloids illustrates more profound flaws within the British media.
According to Mr. Cathcart, press coverage has a drip-drip effect from both “long-term negative reporting of the European Union, and dishonest reporting of the migration issue.”
For The Sun, The Express and The Mail, the influx of European immigrants into Britain, largely from Central and Eastern Europe, has frequently been a front-page story, one that chimes with the most potent argument for those campaigning to quit the bloc.
Castle didn’t hesitate to sic the government watchdogs on his fellow journalists on the right, even citing a respected right-leaning organ The Telegraph.
Other papers have given the issue contentious treatment, according to InFact, an organization that favors remaining in the bloc.
“The Telegraph, Mail and Express have published a string of stories on migration, terrorism, crime and control of our borders that contain factual inaccuracies and/or distortions,” it said, announcing plans to complain to the country’s press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organization, about eight articles.
While Castle went after right-leaning tabloids, his Times colleague Sarah Lyall last week taunted average British citizens in favor of Brexit, making them out to be stock fools in a Month Python sketch.