The front of Wednesday’s New York Times sported a 2,600-word enterprise piece by Katrin Bennhold with a peculiar focus on fellow journalists, those of the allegedly right-wing tabloid irresponsible variety: “Did Tabloids Cause ‘Brexit’? It’s Covered With Inky Fingerprints.” Bennhold condescendingly blamed the right-wing tabloid press for the British vote to leave the European Union (while her paper steadfastly denies its own pro-Clinton, anti-Trump slant throughout the last presidential campaign).
The Times has spent the last year finding new ways to insult Leave supporters -- the 52% of UK voters who voted to leave the European Union. It's still on the case, this time focusing on the bias of other newspapers as the villain -- an odd stance for an organ with its own perceived ideological slant.
Here was the full online subhead:
“To Understand ‘Brexit,’ Look to Britain’s Tabloids” -- Despite their falling circulations and tarnished reputations, tabloids maintain a striking grip on power as Britain prepares to cut ties with the European Union.
And the New York Times doesn’t try to sway the public debate on both its news and editorial pages?
Bennhold offered some bogus insight into the power of the tabloid press:
Tony Gallagher, editor of The Sun, one of Britain’s most raucous and influential tabloids, looks down on the government, literally. From the height of his 12th-floor newsroom, all glass and views, the Palace of Westminster seems like a toy castle, something to be played with or ignored at will.
Mr. Gallagher also looks down on the editor of the more measured Times of London, whose office is one floor below and who makes a point of keeping his blinds drawn. The hierarchy is not lost on either man.
This was a pot-meet-kettle paragraph:
In Britain after the so-called Brexit vote, the power of the tabloids is evident. Their circulations may be falling and their reputations tarnished by a series of phone-hacking scandals. But as the country prepares to cut ties with the European Union after a noisy and sometimes nasty campaign, top politicians court the tabloids and fear their wrath. Broadcasters follow where they lead, if not in tone then in topic.
Their readers, many of them over 50, working class and outside London, look strikingly like the voters who were crucial to the outcome of last year’s referendum on membership in the European Union. It is these citizens of Brexitland the tabloids purport to represent from the heart of enemy territory: Housed in palatial dwellings in some of London’s most expensive neighborhoods, they see themselves as Middle England’s embassies in London.
In the campaign leading up to a snap election on June 8, most tabloids can be counted on to act as the zealous guardians of Brexit and as a cheering section for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May -- even though the city that houses them voted the other way.
Mr. Gallagher made his mark on three of Britain’s most stridently pro-Brexit newspapers. He was editor of The Daily Telegraph, a conservative broadsheet, and deputy editor of the more midmarket Daily Mail, one of The Sun’s main rivals, before Rupert Murdoch poached him 20 months ago. Together, these three titles are a central reason that print coverage of the referendum campaign was skewed 80 percent to 20 percent in favor of Brexit, according to research by Loughborough University.
When will the Times report on media slant on this side of the Atlantic? Such as MRC’s striking finding that 91% of network coverage of Trump’s campaign was negative?
The Times once again went after decades-old stories penned by Boris Johnson, euroskeptic journalist turned political Svengali for the Leave movement:
Mr. Johnson, wild-haired and witty, became a chief architect of Brexit when, four months before the referendum, he threw his weight behind a cause until then most closely associated with the populist U.K. Independence Party. But his main contribution to Brexit may go back more than two decades.
A correspondent in Brussels for The Daily Telegraph in the early 1990s, Mr. Johnson was credited by fellow reporters with pioneering the euroskeptic coverage of the European Union that has since become the default setting for much of the British press. With little regard for the truth -- he was previously fired by The Times of London for making up a quote -- Mr. Johnson wrote about a Europe scheming to impose standard condom sizes and ban his country’s beloved prawn-cocktail-flavored chips (both untrue).
“Boris invented fake news,” said Martin Fletcher, a former foreign editor of The Times, who was in Brussels shortly after Mr. Johnson. “He turned euroskepticism into an art form that every news editor in London came to expect.”
The tabloids say they merely reflect the concerns and fears of their readers. But their critics say they poison the debate by playing to people’s worst instincts and prejudices, distorting facts and creating a propaganda ramp that mainstreams intolerance and shapes policy.
Under the subhead, “Mirroring or Inciting Readers?” Bennhold bemoaned the irresponsible Sun’s continued influence, at least when in service of ideas opposed by the left.
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Yet The Sun sells only 1.6 million copies today (more than 80 percent of them outside London and the country’s wealthy southeast), down from a peak of 4.7 million in the mid-1990s. It lost more than £60 million, about $75 million, last year.
Why are politicians still so scared?
One photo caption: “Front-page splashes in The Daily Mail showing hostility toward migrants in the weeks leading up to last year’s “Brexit” vote.”
Times journalists turn out to be eager media critics after all, at least when it comes to the “right-wing” press.
Research by a former Times journalist, Liz Gerard, showed that tabloids pounded the immigration issue, with at least 30 hostile front-page splashes in The Daily Mail in the six months leading up to the referendum, and 15 in The Sun. The headlines -- “Britain’s Wide Open Borders” The Daily Mail shouted -- often tended toward histrionic. The Sun insinuated that child refugees arriving in Britain were lying about their ages and should have dental X-rays.
Bennhold soft-pedaled the inconvenient fact that she is focusing on only a portion of Rupert Murdoch’s supposedly right-wing media holdings:
Other newspapers in Mr. Murdoch’s group supported remaining in the European Union, Mr. Gallagher noted, reflecting the views of their readers. Among that group was the Scottish edition of The Sun, which like Scottish voters backed Remain.
The story did end in class British media fashion:
He accompanied me to the door. “Don’t stitch me up,” he said.