The mainstream media has gone into damage control mode over the Telegraph’s ongoing Lockdown Files story. Obviously, not all of the mainstream media, the Telegraph being part of said media, and the Spectator having done a good job too.
But much of the work of honestly analysing the implications of Hancock’s leaked messages has been left to alternative media outlets such as Spiked and, yes, the Daily Sceptic.
Take a look at the Financial Times, for example, and we find an odd piece proclaiming that Matt Hancock is “not so much incompetent as annoying”. True, Hancock comes across so badly in the Lockdown Files that even a puff piece can’t completely exonerate him, but is the takeaway from his many appalling messages really just that he is “annoying”?
This limited acknowledgement of Hancock’s immense folly aside, the article attempts to find some redeeming qualities in the vainglorious ninny:
Hancock’s WhatsApps also show that he persuaded then Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to bring forward the end of lockdown in summer 2020, and to shut schools in January 2021, fearing “a policy car crash when the kids spread the disease”. This has aged much better than, say, Rishi Sunak’s Covid-spreading brainwave of paying people to go to restaurants.
Devi Sridhar in the Guardian goes further, seeing the Files as a justification for her lockdown zealotry, with the main issue being that the Government didn’t act sooner, while another piece in the Observer is titled ‘Anti-lockdowners are out in force, filling a Covid inquiry gap with bogus ideology’.
It claims the Telegraph are “trying to shoehorn the WhatsApp leaks into their own ideological narrative”, thought at least admits that “the story demonstrates one thing beyond question – that it was wrong for the Government to kick the assessment of its Covid record into the long grass by setting up a statutory inquiry that would take years to report”.
Most distasteful has been the attempt to shoot the messenger by attacking Isabel Oakshott’s decision to leak the messages exclusively to the Telegraph, or to release them at all. This issue may be of some interest, but hardly seems the main story. Yet the instinctive reaction of big name journalists has been to try to discredit Oakeshott.
First Nick Robinson grilled Oakshott about how much she was paid for the messages, as if she handed them over in a sports bag at a meeting near the docks. Cathy Newman then did the same regarding Oakeshott’s contract at TalkTV, and Kay Burley asked why Matt Hancock gave the messages to a “lockdown denier”, whatever that is.
Of course, it’s not surprising that journalistic procedure means more to journalists than to the average person, and I also might think twice now before giving Isabel Oakeshott 100,000 of my private messages. But isn’t all this badgering of the witness a crude attempt by the mainstream media to regain control of the narrative? With perhaps an added element of guilt and embarrassment due to their failure to do their jobs at the time, instead choosing to abet the Government in getting its Covid policies to land, however absurd and unrelated to scientific evidence said polices often were.
It is a depressing reminder that the mainstream media will never change, preferring to consolidate the established narrative than to explore the messy truth.
Perhaps more worryingly still, the public don’t seem to have processed the findings of the Lockdown Files at all. A recent poll in the Sunday Times, admittedly from the always questionable YouGov, finds that 37% of people still think the Government wasn’t strict enough, while 34% think it got it “about right”. Only 19% said its handing of the COVID-19 outbreak was “too strict”, despite it now being undeniable that many of the rules were based on nothing but political expediency and cowardice.
So far the Lockdown Files seem to have merely hardened whatever opinion people already held, with sceptics still in the minority. Or at least that is how the MSM and YouGov might spin it. In reality, I suspect many would refuse to comply with lockdowns or similar restrictions in future.
I hope we never have to find out.