In addition to phone-hacking and all the other dubious practices employed by newspapers, one of the worst developments in our media over recent years has been the near total fusion of news and comment.
I pointed out recently Polly Toynbee’s description of the media herd in the press room after Ed Miliband’s conference speech, all getting together to decide that the line was a lurch to the left and a dive back to Labour’s bad old days. What he said was deemed by the media to be less important than what they thought he meant and what they thought about it.
Former editor David Blake posted a comment in response saying that in his experience of conferences, journalists rarely listened to speeches let alone spoke to delegates. They talked to each other, so that the man from the Mail asked the man from the Telegraph what he thought, passed it on to the man from The Sun, and the next day the broadcasters sat around discussing what they had said and describing it as ‘the mood’ or public opinion.
Since the conference, the news-comment fusion has gone even further, deciding that because they decided his speech wasn’t up to much, the public has decided he won’t be PM, and therefore what Labour says and does is irrelevant.
Even the serious papers, and even the one paper left that does not routinely fuse news and comment, gave little coverage to the new shadow cabinet. All part of the ‘they don’t count’ general tone.
Yet look at the FT today and the front page lead is an energy company breaking ranks with fellow suppliers by offering electricity for sale to any household supplier – thereby pre-empting one of the key moves in Ed’s speech. Look elsewhere in the media jungle and spot the U-turn on the issue I highlighted before the Lib Dem conference – the shocking loosening of requirements on citizens to get themselves on the electoral register.
Add in the damage Labour and others will do to the Health and Social Care Bill today, and you might conclude not for the first time the media’s news-as-comment portrayal of the world is both distorting and distorted.