The press is special. It exists to hold the powerful to account and shine a light where the powerful don’t want it shone. The press is a guarantor of good governance and a pillar of a civilised society.
So, what happens when the press chooses not to ask the difficult questions and not shine a light? When it picks and chooses which politicians it holds to account? When it colludes with the powerful?
What then of its special place in society? How is it then any better than the legion of trolls out on the web?
These are some of the unsettling questions thrown up by Peter Oborne’s new book ‘The Assault on Truth – Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the emergence of a new moral barbarism’.
Oborne accuses the PM of habitually lying, fabricating and misrepresenting facts; under his leadership, he says, “political deceit has become not just commonplace but automatic”.
The book details the lies, how he got away with making them and their corrosive impact on Britain, a country once famed for “public and private probity”.
What is particularly worrying for anyone working in publishing is the chapter entitled, ‘The Failure of the British Press’. In it, Oborne is scathing about the lack of journalistic rigour in reporting Johnson and the willingness of certain newspapers to propagate political smears and lies.
“British newspapers have played a critical role in the production, authentication, dissemination and, most importantly, the normalisation of the lies, fabrications and smears issued by the Johnson political machine.” They have, he says, become “part of the official apparatus of deceit”.
These are alarming accusations and not ones that can be brushed off lightly. Oborne is a Fleet Street insider having been chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph, political editor of The Spectator and political columnist at the Daily Mail in his time.
His words should be taken seriously.
A newspaper having a stance on a particular issue does not give it carte blanche to drop its standards. The truth should always take precedence, otherwise, err… what’s the point…