After most of Labour’s MPs declared that they no longer had confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to lead their party, there were talks of a challenge to the leadership. This rapidly escalated into needless threats of deselection directed at MPs who had dissented. And then, into the already combustible mix, waded the right-leaning press, scenting the opportunity to make a little more mischief and flog a few more copies.
This has resulted in some highly creative reporting - that is, highly creative even for papers that have developed a reputation for extreme creativity. And this creativity reached its zenith today after Corbyn attended a “Say no to hate crime” event in his constituency. Reporters had been told that the Labour leader was not answering questions about the party leadership. This meant that they asked them anyway.
And those questions were as predictable as ever: a mix of “Mr Corbyn, when are you going to stand down?”. followed by “How much longer can you stay?”, and the slightly goading “Mr Corbyn, it looks like you’re running away from talking about the leadership”. After all of that, Corbyn turned round to the pursuing press pack and told them “If you want to arrange an interview then speak to my press office, thank you”.
This effrontery had to be punished! And so it came to pass that the Telegraph - which claims to be an upmarket paper of record - told its readers “Jeremy Corbyn is under fire after losing his cool with a reporter at a rally in his constituency amid claims that his aides are deliberately refusing to allow him to speak to other MPs … Mr Corbyn had to be held back by aides after he lost his cool with a television reporter … A visibly angry Mr Corbyn … appeared to lunge in the journalist’s direction in front of camera crews and photographers”. Notice the use of the word “appeared”.
The Murdoch Sun made sure everyone knew it was a female journalist: “Jeremy Corbyn appeared to be held back by his aides in a furious conversation with a female reporter who asked if he was ‘running away’ from the crisis engulfing the Labour Party … The embattled opposition leader reportedly lunged towards an ITN journalist who tried to question him about his future”. But there was a problem.
The ITN journalist in question was Victoria Macdonald of Channel 4 News, and her account of what happened does not match the shock horror of the Sun and Telegraph: “My exchange with @jeremycorbyn in full at 515pm on @Channel4News. He was angry yes but contrary to reports I didn't feel 'lunged at’”.
All that Corbyn did was to turn round so he could direct the reporters to his press office. He may not be the world’s most natural media performer, and may also be getting a little frayed at the edges after the past week’s events, but that is no excuse to go from reporting the facts to serving up a mix of falsehood and misinformation.
Dislike of politicians and their parties is no excuse for reporting to leap headlong from gutter into sewer. If Corbyn is such a lousy leader, he will be seen as such without hacks resorting to smears and dishonesty. This kind of distorted reporting is not good enough.