by David Stacey
The Economist is, after the BBC, arguably the most influential media organisation in the U.K.
With a combined digital and print circulation of over 1.5m (50% in the US), its readership includes many global leaders and policy makers. Founded in 1843, the historically liberal Economist, which describes itself as occupying “the extreme centre”, portrays itself as having little reporting bias, prides itself on knowing where Africa is and bringing a global perspective to world events. The Economist has led the way too in data journalism and analysis, being one of the first publications to establish its own dedicated data team.
With its data analysts, its unquestionably talented writers and economically literate worldwide readership the Economist was surely well placed to rise above the global Covid hysteria and rigorously pursue its masthead ambition of “taking part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”.
From the start, however, it has, along with the rest of the legacy media, been consumed by an ostensibly virtuous but myopic fixation on “death with Covid” mortality figures to the exclusion of all else – at the same time, as Andrew Lewis observed in a letter to the magazine on July 24th 2021, portraying those who oppose lockdowns as “crackpots motivated by conspiracy theories”. Each week the Economist’s pages have been filled with the evidence of the disastrous costs of lockdowns (which it unfailingly refers to as the “cost of Covid”) and the economic and social crises they have created, while failing to show that the lockdowns made any material difference to the spread of the virus. The Economist had the opportunity to provide serious, fearless, real-world, data-driven coverage that challenged the official “truth”, shone a light on the unprecedented vested interests and explored other strategies, the economic impact of which might have been less disastrous, not least for developing countries. Countries with whose welfare the magazine has previously aligned itself, where tens of millions have been plunged into poverty.
By as early as April (or even March) 2020 it was very clear that it was the very old and those with underlying health problems, including obesity, that were most at risk of hospitalisation and death. By May 2020 it was equally clear that Professor Ferguson’s dire predictions that shaped the Government response were not going to materialise. It was surely time to take stock and review strategy. The Great Barrington Declaration of October 2020 was a beacon for those who wanted a debate. It should have been a catalyst to scrutinise the effectiveness of lockdowns, to calculate the cost of their economic, social and political consequences and to discuss whether the benefits outweighed those costs. It was a tailor-made opportunity for the Economist to support a constructive analysis of this important attempt to find less damaging strategies (and they had the heft to stand up to the orchestrated campaign led by Fauci and Cummings to shut down discussion by discrediting the Great Barrington Declaration and its authors). A saving of even £100 billion of the total UK Covid borrowing requirement of £400 billion (and rising) would, after all, pay for a lot of public services. And surely avoiding damage to a generation of school children merited serious editorial attention.
In Minton Beddoes, daughter of a Shropshire farmer (albeit a posh one), you would expect to find an editor equipped with the unsentimental attributes needed to lead the Economist’s editorial team in a pandemic. Given the publication’s title, you might also have expected the economy to be at the heart of the magazine’s coverage and yet it was not. The Economist failed to acknowledge the significance of Sweden’s approach to the pandemic. Its instinctive distaste for policies that had the fingerprints of Trump or Trump supporting Republican states such as Texas, South Dakota and particularly Florida (where Governor de Santis did pursue a policy of focused protection) meant that the magazine has failed to fully acknowledge the economic and social gains made by Sweden without driving up Covid mortality rates.
If the Economist had been interrogating the numbers or even monitoring the analysis of the Daily Sceptic we might not have had to wait until December 2021 for JP Morgan’s exposé of the absurdities of Professor Graham Medley’s SAGE forecasting catastrophising – the trigger for the much needed Tory backbench rebellion.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Economist continues to insist that masks, lockdowns and vaccines have been successful at curbing the spread and they continue to support authoritarian measures imposed by governments across the globe.
Were there dissenting voices at editorial meetings? If so, were they stifled, thus exposing the drawbacks of a strong editorial line and the absence of named journalists with the freedom to express differing views?
Dr. Mattias Desmet, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Ghent University, comes closer than anyone in explaining why so many people “go along with the narrative and participate in the strategy even when the narrative and the strategy are absurd”. (Minton Beddoes and her senior team should all listen to this.) You have to be very clever indeed to work for the Economist – a family member who works there is so clever that even their nickname is “clever”. But as Dr Desmet explains “the clever are not immune to mass formation”, the psychological response to Covid, “they just become stupid”.
Anne McElvoy, a Senior Editor at the Economist writing as recently as December 14th in the Evening Standard in support of mandatory vaccinations serves to illustrate Dr. Desmet’s point. McElvoy seems to reflect the Economist’s position and also the views of Sir Tony Blair. (Dr Mark Shaw explains the flaws in her undeveloped argument here.)
We are now in the season of backtracking (even Owen Jones is doing it). Galling as it may be for long-time sceptics to witness Owen Jones’s volte face we must welcome the backtrackers aboard. After all, the only thing worse than backtracking is not backtracking. Now is the time for the Economist to carry out an honest reappraisal and start living up to its masthead ambition. The BBC is a lost cause; let’s hope the Economist isn’t.
David Stacey runs a farming and property business.