The saga of the Sun’s infamous - and infamously wrong - “QUEEN BACKS BREXIT” front page splash has been covered here more than once: the initial and wrong claim, the clear motive of prime suspect Michael “Oiky” Gove, and the paper’s grudging acceptance that not even sham press regulator IPSO was prepared to wipe its backside for it this time have all been featured on Zelo Street. It was no more than mischievous speculation.
Laura Kuenssberg ((c) Guardian)
And there it might have stayed, had it not been for the kind of intervention that, in many other professions, would have been disastrous. The BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, already under fire over the way the news of a shadow front bench resignation was timed, and her attitude to the Labour leadership generally, has blundered into the debate over the Sun story, and by so doing has legitimised it.
As the Guardian has reported, “Nine months after the Sun sparked controversy by publishing a headline, ‘Queen backs Brexit’, in March, Kuenssberg recalled what a contact had told her … Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Kuenssberg revealed she had been told something similar but decided not to report it because it came from a single source”. Is she saying she was tempted to report single-sourced hearsay as news?
Here’s what Ms Kuenssberg said: “In a casual chat with one of my contacts, they said, ‘Do you know what? At some point this is going to come out, and I’m telling you now and I don’t know if the BBC would touch it, but the Queen told people at a private lunch that she thinks that we should leave the EU,’ … Apparently at this lunch she said: ‘I don’t see why we can’t just get out. What’s the problem?’” And there was more.
It's still nothing more than Gove gossip
“My jaw hit the floor. Very sadly, I only had one source. I spent the next few days trying to prove it. I couldn’t find the evidence. Lo and behold, a couple of months later, someone else did”. No Ms K., they didn’t. The Sun claimed to have two sources. It’s not just possible, but highly probable, that the paper’s second source can be traced back to the first one - whom we can now be confident in naming as Gove.
It gets worse: because the BBC’s Political Editor has effectively legitimised the Sun’s bogus story, this has emboldened the Murdoch goons and their hangers-on, with the paper claiming “Sun Scoop Backed”. The equally Europhobic Mail announced “The Queen 'DID back Brexit but the BBC didn't report it because they only had a single source’”. Metro has gone with “The Queen ‘backed Brexit’ before the EU referendum, according to BBC political editor”. Ms Kuenssberg’s imprimatur used to legitimise mere gossip.
She knew what she was doing by going on the Today programme - that most authoritative of current affairs offerings - and even suggesting that the Sun’s story was a legitimate one, rather than an organised plant based on gossip Gove had shared at a meeting with the Murdoch inner circle a few days previously. We know she is still unsure of its veracity, as she has concluded “the story did eventually emerge, whether it was true or not”.
So why even say anything, knowing what would happen? Why claim “I would die in a ditch for the impartiality of the BBC” after emboldening the Murdoch goons to invent yet more fact-free drivel? Laura Kuenssberg has made a seriously bad mistake - the problem is that the lobby mentality which she shares cannot see it that way.