Bitter Over Brexit, NYT's Sarah Lyall Twice Calls Boris Johnson a Liar in Front-Page News Story

July 2nd, 2016 8:28 PM

The New York Times’ snobbish, condescending, and just plain crazed hostility toward Britain’s vote to leave the European Union trade zone continued after a political coup resulted in Boris Johnson, the intellectual figurehead of the successful Brexit campaign, dropping out of the race for conservative leader to replace Prime Minister David Cameron.

Friday’s front page featured an insulting "memo from London" from reporter Sarah Lyall gleefully digging the dirt and then shoveling it over Boris Johnson's political career: “Charm Fails For a Leader In Need of It – A Political Prankster Loses His Biggest Bet.

Before the vote, Lyall used Monty Python skits in a front-page story to mock the pro-Brexit side. She probably doesn’t find the subject nearly as amusing now.

Lyall opened her story Friday with an old personal scandal from Johnson.

One day in 2004, Boris Johnson was interrupted on his morning jog by a pack of tabloid reporters massed outside his house in North London. They asked about rumors that Mr. Johnson, then editor of The Spectator magazine and a member of Parliament, had once had an extramarital affair, gotten his lover pregnant and paid for her abortion.

The chronically disheveled Mr. Johnson, wearing voluminous shorts and a bandanna decorated with skulls and crossbones, responded with his usual cocktail of charm, bluster and obfuscation. Having already dismissed the story as “a completely untrue and ludicrous conjecture,” and “an inverted pyramid of piffle,” he cheerily advised the reporters to “go for a run, get some exercise and have a beautiful day.”

He was lying. The reports were correct, and he was fired from his parliamentary job as the Conservative Party arts spokesman. But it didn’t seem to bother him too much. Mr. Johnson has always had a knack for recasting disaster as farce, and he devoted his weekly newspaper column to the virtues of being fired.


Mr. Johnson, 52, has had a singularly charmed life, always wafting upward on a Teflon cloud of charm and guile even as people have questioned his integrity, seriousness and competence. But not anymore. Having gambled his political future on the chance to lead his party and country through the aftermath of the “Brexit” referendum on whether to exit the European Union, Mr. Johnson found on Thursday that his luck had run out. He withdrew from the race.

In the end, he was done in as much by his own hubris, lack of preparation and bewilderment in the face of the Brexit result as he was by the treachery and dwindling support of his colleagues. As he abandoned his campaign to be the Conservative Party leader -- and with it, probably, his chances of ever being prime minister -- he seemed almost relieved to be spared the burden of running the country he had done so much to destabilize.

The mainstream press is usually reluctant to flat-out call a politician (say, Hillary Clinton) a liar in a news story, but Lyall did so twice to the conservative Johnson, who sounds much like a typical politician:

But his surface success has always carried alongside it a reputation for lies, evasions and exaggerations, a lack of seriousness and discipline, a tendency to wade blindly into situations without thinking through their ramifications, and a perception that he puts his own ambitions first. He has a habit of deflecting tough questions and affecting an amused insouciance about his mistakes, which include fathering a child with a woman other than his wife (he and his wife, a lawyer, have four children).


In fact, it was as a journalist who played around with the facts that Mr. Johnson first made his name. He was fired from his first reporting job, at The Times of London, for inventing a quote and attributing it to an Oxford professor (who happened to be his godfather). But he was hired anyway by The Daily Telegraph and sent to Brussels in 1989 to cover the European Union.


Around that time Mr. Johnson also became a bona fide celebrity, honing his trademark persona as a hyperarticulate upper-class-twit-for-the-masses in a string of highly amusing appearances on the current events quiz show “Have I Got News For You.” Viewers adored him.

Lyall ended with a triumphant anti-Boris anecdote.

Before now, Mr. Johnson has rarely been confronted by a situation he could not maneuver his way through. But a harbinger came in March, when he was summoned before a House of Commons committee and forensically interrogated by its Javert-like Tory chairman, Andrew Tyrie, about a series of statements he had made over the years about Europe.

Mr. Johnson tried his normal humorous approach. Asked, for instance, about his assertion that the European Union has a law saying that balloons cannot be blown up by children under 8 (it doesn’t), he deflected the question, saying, “In my household, only children under 8 are allowed to blow up balloons.”

He continued in this vein throughout the session, as Mr. Tyrie peered unsmilingly at him, acid in his voice.

“This is all very interesting, Boris,” Mr. Tyrie said at one point. “Except none of it is really true, is it?”

Lyall has no love for conservatives. In March 2010, under the headline "As Party Fights Elite Image, Tory Puts Posh Foot in Mouth,” she wrote a leftist editorial disguised as a news story: "In the eyes of many Britons, the Tories' traditional social elitism is tied to another form of elitism - what they perceive as the callous policies of the haves toward the have-nots in the Thatcher era. That was when the Conservative government cut social spending and pursued an anti-Europe, anti-immigration, anti-union agenda....the Tories found themselves once more in the position of grim spoilsports eager to cut government programs."