Everything is Everything
Earlier this year, the BBC released The Coming Storm; a podcast series about the events leading up the the United States Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.
In the series, and in interviews promoting the podcast, the the former BBC Foreign Correspondent for Newsnight, Gabriel Gatehouse, describes his first meeting with Jake Chansley, better known as the ‘Q Shaman’ guy outside an election counting station in Arizona:
I got chatting to him… and he starts telling me about this a cabal of Satanic pedophiles that he believes is involved… and that’s really my first exposure to QAnon.
Supposedly, this exchange takes place whilst the votes are being counted for the United States presidential election, in early November 2020.
Now, by November 2020, plenty of mainstream news organisations had run pieces about QAnon. The Washington Post had a piece in March 2018. The New York Times podcast The Daily ran an episode on it in August 2018. The Guardian, in September 2019. The Atlantic ran a long article on it entitled ‘QAnon, Nothing Can Stop What is Coming’ in June 2020. Even Last Week Tonight with John Oliver ran a price on it in August 16, 2020.
I don’t want to pick on Gabriel Gatehouse specifically, but to take him at his word, but apparently a BBC Foreign Correspondent for Newsnight, was seemingly unaware of a widespread conspiracy theory that had been pumping toxic through the Republican Party and American right for years.
If that’s true, you have to wonder quite how a professional journalist gets by with such a lack of curiosity.
Another example, the former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis, (now at LBC), spoke for the MacTaggart Lecture to the Edinburgh Television Festival. In the speech, she said that back in 2016 she didn’t know the term ‘bothsidesism’; or false equivalency, and was unaware it was used as a criticism of BBC News:
I’d later learn that the ungainly name for this myopic style of journalism was ‘bothsides-ism’, which talks to the way it reaches a superficial balance while obscuring a deeper truth. At this stage, I’d never heard the term or indeed the criticism. I just thought we were doing our job.
Once again we find a professional journalist with years of experience, claiming ignorance on something that they really should know about. As Mic Wright points out in his excellent media newsletter Conquest of the Useless:
Two years before the Brexit referendum, a year-long inquiry by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology concluded that BBC News teams consistently engaged in false balance when reporting on climate change. For a senior news journalist to claim they weren’t familiar with the concept before the Brexit debate and that they hadn’t even heard criticism of the BBC’s approach to achieving ‘balance’ before is either an admission of incompetence or a brazen lie.
That a senior journalist at a flagship investigative program would be unaware of concepts like false equivalency or, (to be blunt), the basics of journalistic impartiality is not great.
I’m not sure what we’re expected to make of these two admissions from supposedly serious, respected journalists.
Going back to the Gatehouse Q-Anon story, what might be going on here is that Q-Anon grew out of 4chan and Reddit and Facebook. Simply put, 4chan isn’t the beat for a serious political journalist. News websites silo their coverage into topics like News, Politics, Technology, Media… yet increasingly these are all the same thing.
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is a technology story, but it’s media, and politics and business and having the ‘Technology Editor’ chip away at one bit, whilst a political columnist grinds though the ramifications in Whitehall- it misses the bigger picture.
The last few years; Brexit, the rise of Trump in the US, the onward march of the far-right, has highlighted some serious failings in journalism. The inability to properly report on, and to hold to account the powerful, because news organisations and journalists are too enmeshed in the Everything.