In 1943, American journalist Alan Barth coined the phrase, “news is only the first rough draft of history.” An apt description, spoiled only by the word ‘only’.
Well, how did today’s newspapers do with this week’s first draft?
How did Fleet Street’s headline writers approach Tuesday’s events at Westminster? Any headline that didn’t include the word ‘historic’ failed, in my opinion, to do justice to the enormity of the situation. Three papers did: The Guardian (May suffers historic defeat as Tories turn against her), The Times (May suffers historic defeat) and i (Historic humiliation).
The Mail headline (Fighting for her life) was accurate but relatively muted by their usual standards, perhaps a reflection of there now being a remainer in charge, perhaps due to the absence of an obvious fall-guy this week – after all, both remainers and leavers cheered May’s defeat in equal measure.
All the nationals led on May’s defeat, except The Daily Star which preferred: Dermot’s rage at Ant and Dec.
To some extent, the papers, including the Star, might have been keeping their powder dry because, dramatic as this week’s events undoubtedly were, there’s potentially even greater upheaval ahead. They’ve got to pace themselves.
No one knows what will happen next. Perhaps yesterday’s headline in Les Échos, the French financial newspaper, summed it up best: Brexit: le saut dans l'inconnu (Brexit: the leap into the unknown).
We are living in momentous times. School children in 2119 will be learning about Brexit, and its ramifications, in the same way that we learnt about the Corn Laws, and the thousands of column inches from today’s journalists will help inform their lessons.
When their great-grandchildren come to learn about this week’s events and show them their history books, those journalists will be able to say, “I helped write them”.