On Thursday evening, BBC News’ political editor Laura Kuenssberg did a ‘piece to camera’ on Theresa May’s Brexit talks in Brussels – and on Jeremy Corbyn. It was an object lesson in the kind of language and framing that drives so many on the left up the wall at perceived bias.
Ms Kuenssberg started the piece by describing Theresa May’s position in the latest talks with the other twenty-seven EU leaders. Pay close attention to the words highlighted in yellow in the subtitles:
But however much she can appeal to them tonight, she’ll make it clear that she has compromised as far as she can.
The Tories are busy desperately trying to prepare the UK public for a ‘no-deal Brexit’, to pitch it as a positive, as a show of strength. And here we have the BBC’s political editor treating as fact the idea that Mrs May has compromised as far as she can. She’ll be ‘making that clear’ to the other EU leaders – and if they don’t accept that, the implication is that they’re denying reality.
For someone who makes her living from words, it would be extremely easy for Ms Kuenssberg to avoid giving this implied endorsement to Theresa May’s position. Simply changing ‘she’ll make it clear‘ to ‘tell them‘ would do it:
she’ll tell them that she has compromised as far as she can
would succinctly convey the fact that it would be May’s claim or opinion rather than fact. If Ms Kuenssberg wanted to be more explicitly impartial, she could use ‘claim’, or ‘she’ll make it clear that she feels she has compromised as far as she can’.
Such a choice of language may, possibly, have been simply accidental, but it’s anything but trivial. Repeat such terminology often enough and the implication is clear: Theresa May or her representatives are telling the truth – she has compromised as far as any reasonable person could and if the EU leaders reject her supposed ‘compromise’, the blame for a disastrous no-deal Brexit will be all their fault, not the Tories’.
Now contrast with the phraseology applied to the brief appearance of Jeremy Corbyn in the report:
The Labour leader, rallying in Brussels today says the risk of no-deal is dangerous.
Now it’s just his opinion, not a fact – he says it’s dangerous, but it might not be. As the cherry on top, he’s in Brussels ‘rallying’ – speaking to crowds in the way that was written off by commentators in the General Election and in the 2016 Labour leadership contest as trivial, unimportant, not ‘real politics’.
If Ms Kuenssberg were to equalise the weight she gives to the opinions/claims of the two party leaders, she could change the May piece as suggested above – or she could say that Corbyn ‘knows’, ‘recognises’, ‘is aware’, or some other wording that suggests the danger is also factual.
The left, well used to this kind of asymmetrical language from ‘MSM’ commentators, recognises its importance and the kind of impression it creates in the public mind – and considers any journalist biased whom they perceive to be demonstrating a pattern of such language in favour of the government.
And, whether it’s by Ms Kuenssberg or any other reporter/journalist/talking head, it drives them – understandably – up the wall.
And, since the BBC Trust itself criticised Ms Kuenssberg for bias in the presentation of an interview she conducted with Jeremy Corbyn, the perception is not exclusive to the left.
Now, we don’t need to add this, because SKWAWKBOX readers and the left generally are disinclined to violence and abuse, in spite of scurrilous claims to the contrary by Establishment journalists and politicians. But because it is likely to be used against us if we don’t say it explicitly, here it is:
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