The old adage that the job of a journalist, on hearing one person claim it is raining and another claiming it is not, is not to merely report the claims but look out of the window and discover what is really happening, was never more true this afternoon as a protest outside Leeds General Infirmary was misreported to the point of partisan negligence.
Laura Kuenssberg ((c) Guardian)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock had been dispatched to LGI after it was revealed that a four-year-old boy with suspected pneumonia had been sleeping on a pile of coats on the floor due to a shortage of beds. Alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was confronted about it and declined to look at the image, instead putting the reporter’s phone in his pocket. Hancock was supposed to recover the situation.
Instead, as he left there was a small but vocal protest waiting. But nothing untoward happened. Unless you followed BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg: “So Matt Hancock was despatched to Leeds General (sorry not just Leeds Hospital), to try to sort out mess, hearing Labour activists scrambled to go + protest, and it turned nasty when they arrived - one of them punched Hancock's adviser”. And there was more.
Ms K once more. “Not entirely clear what happened, but Tories suggesting Labour campaigners offered to pay cabs for activists to go and heckle Hancock - fair to say today not panning out as anyone had expected in what has been a relatively flat campaign”.
Just 18 minutes later, ITV political editor Robert Peston joined in. “It was [Matt Hancock]’s adviser [Jamie Njoku-Goodwin] who was whacked in the face by a protestor as he tried to help Hancock into his car outside Leeds General Hospital. Police on scene. All sounds very unpleasant”. Meanwhile, Paul Mason asked Ms Kuenssberg a straightforward question. “What is the source for this assertion? Pictures, statements? Quotes?”
Well, quite. She had not, it seems, checked first. Nor had Peston. And Paul Chatterton had bad news for them both, and Paul Brand of ITV: “This did not happen. I was standing right there. I think you need to confirm your evidence before spreading inaccuracies”. The Tory Fibs Twitter feed posted video and asked simply “This is the scene. Judge for yourself”.
Another Tweeter responded to Brand “Except BBC's [Nick Eardley] who was actually there just said on [BBC PM] at 5pm, that no assault occurred”. Stefan Stern was on the same page. “On [BBC PM] their reporter [Nick Eardley] says there was no punch in Leeds and no scuffle but perhaps an accidental collision. So it looks like reports of a punch and an arrest may have been somewhat over-spun, for some reason”. Indeed.
By now Ms Kuenssberg was having second thoughts. “Have video from Hancock leaving Leeds General just come through so you can see for yourself - doesn’t look like punch thrown, rather, one of Tory team walks into protestor’s arm, pretty grim encounter”. There was nothing grim. Paul Waugh of the HuffPo added simply “The 'punch' was not a punch”.
Peston just said sorry. “It is completely clear from video footage that [Matt Hancock]’s adviser was not whacked by a protestor, as I was told by senior Tories, but that he inadvertently walked into a protestor's hand. I apologise for getting this wrong”. The source was a Senior Tory one. No doubt trying to deflect from Bozo’s earlier gross insensitivity.
It was left to Peter Jukes of Byline Media to point out how the claim spread: “Looks like they're all in the same WhatsApp group. This isn't independent journalism”. But, as far as can be ascertained, Laura Kuenssberg was the one that started it. From there, the herd instinct kicked in and the others followed. As she was wrong, so were they.
This is not the first time that Ms Kuenssberg has fouled up badly in a way that suggests partiality towards the Tories. Perhaps this time it should be the last.
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