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The Hounding of Cummings

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'.