The furore over Prime Minister Boris Johnson's advisor Dominic Cummings over the past week has reached new heights in what has become known as the 'Trial-by-Media' syndrome.
This is not new; there have been many similar 'trials' in the past and some newspapers have something of a reputation for proceeding with them and more recently, broadcast media have followed the same path. While many people who figure in these 'trials' are well-known, this is not always the case. Most people had heard of Jimmy Savile but few of Fred West for example.
Nadia Cenci looks at the phenomenon and the case of Dominic Cummings in particular:
Almost all media starts with something called pre-suasion. Big headlines to get your attention - the headline writers (who are not usually the people actually writing the articles) know that most people work on shortcuts and don’t really read or listen to all the details. In the case of Dominic Cummings the commentary started with suggesting he had 'gone to stay with his dad and went to Durham twice'.
This, perhaps understandably, incensed people who otherwise followed the lockdown guidance but the next step is to use social 'proof'. Get a few Labour activists on websites like mumsnet and everyone around then thinks it’s true. In other words, a slanted coverage puts petrol on the fire of the original story - which can be true but sometimes is only partly true. And with increasing frequency, can even be untrue.
The far left however, then see an opportunity to stir it up. As an opposition to the present government, such a stance might be understandable - however what becomes the equivalent of a runaway train brings the story into the realms of hysteria and with a seemingly unstoppable momentum behind it, mainstream media find they must continue and the more wild claims are made - 'it’s illegal to go to Durham and he went to a place with Castle in its name so he had a jolly'.
This in turn leads to more public anger, but can also become plain harrassment. Just one email is copied and pasted to MPs, along with the genuinely angry parents and others. But now we get into ‘commitment.’ We want our original thoughts to be correct so even when the police categorically state he did not break the law going to Durham, rather than concede the point, some forms of media instead choose another ‘pre-suasion' technique and emphasise the comment from Durham Police that 'a minor breach of lockdown rules may have taken place'.
Left - Dominic Cummings has become a hate-figure for some (image - Clem Rutter)
Now here’s the kicker about Cummings and that trip. I saw loads of you, yes plenty of you after about 3 weeks of lockdown, drive your car and get out. I live in a beautiful part of Ipswich and yes I walked behind you, in front of you on my daily walk and you’d done the same thing as Cummings is alleged to have done. Did I report you? No. Why?
Because you are sensible and kept social distancing - as did Cummings. In fact I’ve been impressed but I also saw some of you sunbathe. I used common sense and understand that I’m lucky. I have several wonderful walks on my doorstep but many of you don’t.
Now I ask you this; if the police had caught you do you think you should lose your job? Do you think you should have people harass you and your family, as well as descending upon your home? Would you be happy if all you’d done was take your family for a drive and people campaigned for your boss to sack you? Well, you might - but it isn't very likely.
The Dominic Cummings affair is not about one man and whether he was wrong or not to put his family first. This is about the Brexit Principle and extending transition. Mainstream media have used powerful tools to manipulate public thinking and don’t want to let this go because if they do they are left with no story and some egg on their faces.
Did Cummings deliberately and wilfully break the rules? I don't believe he did but he might have made a genuine mistake. I didn’t write speeding law & criminal law but I respect them and abide by them even if police don’t or lawyers beat up foxes.
We all make mistakes. Leave him be now
© Nadia Cenci 2020
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