Journalists, so the unwritten rule goes, do not dump on their own. The code of Omertà cannot, must not, be broken. The penalties are unwritten, but their imposition is clearly visible: for instance, when Nick Davies and others at the Guardian blew the whistle on phone hacking. The rest of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet have never forgiven them, and take every opportunity to put the boot in.
So it was initially surprising to see Nick Cohen at the Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, speaking in such forthright terms about other journalists today. Yes, he is merely echoing what I have been saying for some time about London’s former occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and his fellow man who would be King, Michael “Oiky” Gove, but for it to come from a fellow journalist is rather different.
Observing Gove and Johnson’s demeanour, Cohen concluded “they gazed at the press with coffin-lid faces and wept over the prime minister they had destroyed … No one whoops at a funeral, especially not mourners who are glad to see the back of the deceased. But I saw something beyond hypocrisy in those frozen faces: the fear of journalists who have been found out”. And there was more.
“The media do not damn themselves, so I am speaking out of turn when I say that if you think rule by professional politicians is bad, wait until journalist politicians take over. Johnson and Gove are the worst journalist politicians you can imagine: pundits who have prospered by treating public life as a game. Here is how they play it”.
How? “They grab media attention by blaring out a big, dramatic thought. An institution is failing? Close it. A public figure blunders? Sack him. They move from journalism to politics, but carry on as before. When presented with a bureaucratic EU that sends us too many immigrants, they say the answer is simple, as media answers must be. Leave. Now. Then all will be well”. But they do not now know what comes next.
Seriously. “Johnson and Gove carried with them a second feature of unscrupulous journalism: the contempt for practical questions … The Leave campaign has no plan … Vote Leave did not know how to resolve difficulties with Scotland, Ireland, the refugee camp at Calais, and a thousand other problems, and did not want to know either.”
And what is his verdict on that campaign? “The Vote Leave campaign followed the tactics of the sleazy columnist to the letter. First, it came out with the big, bold solution: leave. Then it dismissed all who raised well-founded worries with ‘the country is sick of experts’. Then, like Johnson the journalist, it lied”. Got it in one.
That one of their fellow journalists is prepared to raise head above parapet and state plainly and very directly shows the distaste for Gove and Johnson’s actions, and where they have led not just the country, but their own profession. In that, Nick Cohen has done that profession a service that it may not want, but sorely needs, if only to snap out of its reverie and realise that, in the real world, and for the little people, it is not a game.
Nick Cohen is not always right. But on this he has hit the bullseye. Well done that man.