It was with loud Twitter-trumpeting that The Sun proclaimed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to be dancing his way to the Cenotaph ahead of Remembrance Day commemorations. The story has since been removed.
The Daily Mail’s online section was slightly more circumspect, but again reported the same story. This one has also since been removed.
Both of these right-wing publications saw a golden opportunity for negative reporting on Corbyn and blundered straight into a farce almost entirely of their own making.
Between the Sun’s avowedly tabloid approach and the Mail harrumphing like ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ at Corbyn’s alleged antics, they both made it clear that photos supplied by ‘photo-journalist’ @PoliticalPics (according to his safely anonymous Twitter handle) clearly showed Corbyn dancing merrily to the Cenotaph and, in the process, treating a solemn Remembrance event as though he was on his way to a student party.
Except he wasn’t.
He wasn’t dancing around. He wasn’t walking alone. He was walking with and talking to former ‘Desert Rat’ George Durack who accompanied him to the Cenotaph for the wreath-laying ceremony.
You probably don’t know George Durack exists because he was excised from the photos, digitally-edited as they were in a way guaranteed to make Corbyn look bad and Mr Durack into the Invisible Man.
According to @PoliticalPics on his Twitter feed yesterday, Corbyn was dancing his way to the event, a claim this ‘photo-journalist’ reiterated today. According to Corbyn, the Labour Party, presumably the Sun and Mail’s legal departments and, most important of all, George Durack himself, this is a lie.
But why did editors, photographers and other skilled professionals at the Sun and Mail not check further to ensure these images were as they were claimed to be?
The answer does seem increasingly obvious. The right-wing of the mainstream media seems to have a ‘Get Corbyn’ agenda that, this time, has royally back-fired. Basic fact-checking is supposed to be one of the keystones of responsible, quality journalism. For decent journalists it still is. Headline after headline pours from the right-wing press demonising Corbyn for this, slating him for that, and vilifying him for the other whilst very few outlets even begrudgingly acknowledge any virtues he might have.
When they initially saw the doctored photos, what checks did picture editors and photo staff make? Did they confirm the claims with a second source, something many journalists regard as standard practice? Or did the right-wing and tabloid media’s desire for yet another portrayal of the Labour leader as the Prince of Darkness override their professional judgement. Or, if their well-tuned journalistic instincts weren’t overridden by personal prejudice, were they subordinated to something altogether tangible? A phone call from those higher up the editorial food chain, perhaps?
This is not to say that the right-wing are always sinners and the Left are always saints. Fact-checking the Socialist Worker or similar publications would probably turn plenty of Leninist ‘bending the stick’ as well, to be fair. But the torrent of anti-Corbyn, pro-anybody-but-Corbyn copy from much of the mainstream press doesn’t do wonders for their self-image (believed by some of them if not by many other people) as the guardians of truth and gatekeepers of balanced reportage.
According to a spokesman, Labour are considering going to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). ‘PoliticalPics (and quite possibly whoever at the Sun and Mail green-lit this latest smear) might well be headed for the nearest Jobcentre.
George Durack said of the reporting:
I was with Jeremy when he lay the wreath and I was his companion at the Cenotaph so I know everything he’s done today because I was there. If they try to blacken his name at least do it legitimately, don’t make farce of something like that. I think it’s pretty awful and they should give him a break.
But with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) only willing to dish out meagre punishments such as telling publishers issue an apology to victims of outright lies, the right-wing press have been given the green light to continue their vicious smear campaign against the Labour leader, as well as any other opponents they happen to disagree with.
Surely punishing repeat offenders with huge fines would be the easiest way of avoiding misleading, and often slanderous journalism.
Believe it or not, IPSO does have the power to issue fines up to £1m for failings that are ‘particularly serious and systemic’. But somehow, repeat liars in the right-wing press somehow manage to evade punishment time and time again from a supposedly ‘Independent’ press standards organisation.
But with a Tory government running the country, there appear to be no plans to enforce stricter punishments on such fallacious reporting, giving the incumbent government a significant edge in public perception due to the right-wing press’ salacious appetite for smearing any opposition to the Conservative Party.