All That Is Solid ...
Look what A Very Public Sociologist melted into
Sunday, 2 May 2021
Kuenssberg to the Rescue
Is Boris Johnson a liar? Ask anyone who follows politics, anyone in the Commons, anyone who knows him and the answer is yes. Peter Oborne recently devoted half a book to Johnson's light touch relationship with the truth. And another Peter, this time Stefanovic, has a viral video on this very topic that has been viewed over 14 million times. So we can all agree, right? No. There is one hardy soul standing against the crowd, and they're not one of the Prime Minister's lackeys dependent on him for preference and position. Why, it's the BBC's chief political correspondent, your friend and mine Laura Kuenssberg.
In a lengthy piece (by BBC News standards), she ponders Johnson's propensity to lie and, um, carries on pondering. In a mishmash of psychodrama, gossip, observation, and soap opera we learn that politicians seldom lie ("Only one senior politician still in the game has ever privately told me something that was utterly, entirely, and completely untrue. It was proved publicly to be a lie a few days later"). We also learn Johnson might have a cavalier attitude to the truth, but it comes from an honest place. Yes, really. Drawing a flattering comparison with the late and unlamented Steve Jobs, we're given to understand he was driven by monomaniacal ambition, and inhabited a universe in which his ego was the animating principle. His schemes, whatever they were at any given time, were what mattered and everything was subordinate to them. Including the truth. It's almost as if Jobs didn't have time for such inconveniences.
That's certainly true of Johnson. Vanity has long been the primary motivator, and now the ambition is fulfilled all he has is the reactive business of everyday politics. His lies then for Kuenssberg are less falsehoods, but merely an effect of absent-mindedness, of a brain consumed with other passions and priorities. It's the "pressures of life", or simply an innocuous happenstance of Johnson's contrived efforts to bamboozle and bluster. Besides, she continues, those who voted for him knew what he was like. His "authenticity" is what counts, and if he govern on whims? Oh well, we might as well shrug our shoulders. No harm done.
This is piffle. Kuenssberg's piece is one of the most egregious examples of political commentary designed to obscure, if not alibi her subject. It's entirely sympathetic and circles gingerly around what everyone knows. There is no accountability here, let alone criticism of Johnson. Perhaps more fruitful than considering the content of the piece is why she turned in this sub-par apologetic. And it might have something to do with the new regime at the BBC, which is now run by a clutch of Tory donors. While its status as a fearless promulgator of the truth is something of a BBC myth, even if plenty of its personnel still believe it, the Tories have long targeted its output as not being impartial enough. Or, to put it more plainly, entirely uncritical of their shenanigans. And as they're in government, they're using their position to strip down the BBC and denude it of critical resources. A monoglot of trash with anaemic news outputs, especially as it pertains to politics, is what they want and are working toward.
Where does Laura Kuenssberg fit into this? She did not get to the top by raw journalistic talent alone. She had to play the game, have a feel for the stakes, know the direction the wind was blowing - just like anyone who ascends to the summit of anything. And now with the BBC firmly in the government's scaly grip, she's not about to jeopardise her position by repeating Commons commonplaces from her perch on one of the world's busiest websites. Not that her time in the job has been marked by a thirst for holding senior politicians to account, save one, of course. Indeed, her adjustment to the more overtly Tory BBC requires very little movement on her part. The cosy lunches, the shared text messages, the off-the-record briefings and the seamy stuff they care about but affect to say no one else is interested, her position is compromised anyway. To keep turning in the copy and remaining a player means keeping on the good side of virtually the entire cabinet. And this, her desire to keep this state of affairs going, is a more effective censor than an unwelcome phone call from the chairman.