We live in the age of the media sideshow. In Britain, the press is in a state of uproar because Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, broke the lockdown rules to drive 400 kilometres to his parents’ home, apparently so that extended family could care for his four-year-old son.
It doesn’t look good, especially when his wife was showing coronavirus symptoms and Cummings, according to Johnson, was worried that he would contract the virus himself. There were surely other ways of making sure their son was looked after.
But it’s worth noting that the story was broken by The Daily Mirror and The Guardian, two papers aligned with the left. The British left loathe Johnson, deeply resent his popularity, and will use any means they can to damage him.
Cummings makes it easier for them because he’s personally unpopular and appears to revel in his image as a master of the dark political arts. He’s also resented within the Conservative Party because of his perceived influence over the prime minister, which probably explains why some Tory MPs are demanding his head on a platter.
Yes, this is an issue for Johnson, and he’s characteristically tackling it head-on. It’s refreshing to see a political leader standing his ground rather than meekly capitulating to sanctimonious left-wing media bullies, as so many gutless centre-right politicians do.
Does Cummings deserve to be defended? I couldn’t say. But what’s clear is that a frenzied media beat-up has blown the issue out of all proportion. That was apparent from Corin Dann’s interview on Morning Report this morning with an over-excited Vincent McAviney, one of Radio NZ’s British correspondents.
McAviney signalled his bias when he made a snide remark suggesting that because Johnson has had multiple children with various partners, he’s in no position to talk about fatherly instincts. Really? Johnson has spread his seed around, so he’s a hypocrite for sympathising with Cummings’ desire to protect his son? Is that a gigantic non-sequitur, or what?
Warming to his theme, McAviney proceeded to paint Cummings as some sort of sinister Rasputin-type figure exercising “huge” control in Downing Street – more than anyone before him, he reckoned. Perhaps McAviney is too young to remember the egregious Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s all-powerful communications supremo, whose toxic behaviour supposedly inspired the character of Malcolm Tucker in the BBC political satire The Thick of It.
But the British journo well and truly blew any chance of being taken seriously - you could say he jumped the shark - when he cited angry tweets by J K Rowling and - get this - a former winner of The Great British Bake Off as conclusive proof of public outrage. The case rests, m'Lud.
I wonder, do people like McAviney realise how absurd they sound? And does RNZ expect us to regard him in future as a sober and reliable observer of British politics?
Meanwhile, an equally ludicrous sideshow was playing out right here in New Zealand over the supposedly scandalous MAGA cap that someone spotted on a shelf in the office of new National leader Todd Muller.
In a comically hysterical piece in the New Zealand Herald, Damien Venuto argued that this was no innocent political souvenir brought home (along with a Hillary Clinton badge) by someone with a harmless interest in American politics. No, it was apparently prima facie evidence of sympathy for white male supremacists.
Even the redoubtable, hard-core leftie Martyn Bradbury drew the line at this, pointing out that Venuto’s column was exactly the type of over-reaction that free-speech advocates seize on as proof of the left’s intolerance of differing views.
He’s right, but for me the greater tragedy is that woke journalists like Venuto – McAviney too, for that matter – are the reason the New Zealand public have almost completely lost faith in the media.