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Media could ask Cummings about needless deaths & crashing economy. But their ‘gotcha!’ moment is a stupid car trip

Rob Lyons
Rob Lyons

Rob Lyons is a UK journalist specialising in science, environmental and health issues. He is the author of 'Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder'.

Rob Lyons is a UK journalist specialising in science, environmental and health issues. He is the author of 'Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder'.

Media could ask Cummings about needless deaths & crashing economy. But their ‘gotcha!’ moment is a stupid car trip
Top Boris Johnson adviser Dominic Cummings’ apparent violation of lockdown rules has the UK media obsessed. But the way they have rushed for a piece of him is a showcase of a pack mentality with misplaced priorities.

Today in the UK, we ‘celebrate’ nine weeks of lockdown – a series of measures that has robbed us of great swathes of our long-held rights and left the economy on its knees. So what are the UK media currently in a feeding frenzy about? Whether a political adviser – not even an elected politician – did or did not bend or break those lockdown rules a few weeks ago. One thing the pandemic has done is brought into sharp relief the utter uselessness of the breed of fatuous gossip-mongers known as ‘political correspondents.’

The established facts are these: a few days after the lockdown was announced on Monday, March 23, Dominic Cummings – Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser – left London with his wife and four-year-old child to stay at a property on his parents’ estate in County Durham, a journey of over 250 miles. His wife, journalist Mary Wakefield, had already become ill with Covid-19 and Cummings assumed he was likely to become ill soon, too.

Cummings says they were worried they would be unable to look after their child if they were both ill. It seems his concern was well placed, as he became very ill soon after.

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The lockdown rules seemed clear. Anyone who becomes ill with Covid-like symptoms is supposed to stay at home, full stop, and all members of their household are supposed to do so, too. However, there is an exception if a journey is required to care for someone. Cummings says there was no one suitable to look after his child in London and that the trip to be near his family in Durham was essential. However, there are also reports that Cummings and his family were seen 30 miles from his parents’ home on April 12, after their self-isolation was over, and that he may have been back in the area on April 19, suggesting a second trip up north (the latter claim is firmly denied.)

In essence, the accusation is that it is one rule for the well-connected in government and another rule for the rest of us. There has been uproar in the press and on social media, with demands that Cummings should be sacked or at least for an inquiry led by a senior civil servant.

Pack mentality

The media frenzy has been remarkable. One of the defining characteristics of the daily press conferences at Downing Street has been the pack mentality of the media. There always seems to be one issue each day that all of them want answers about, whether it is about protective equipment in hospitals, testing of suspected cases, or when schools will reopen. The lack of imagination is often breathtaking.

But the form of the questions are all too often an attempt to get a ‘gotcha!’ moment – when a politician has to admit they lied or screwed up. This ‘gotcha’ journalism is the standard form for political correspondents. Such journos get a gold star if their question leads to a minister’s embarrassment or, better still, resignation. This kind of lazy journalism is tedious at the best of times, annoying during elections, and an affront to the concerns of the public during a crisis.

Also on rt.com Journalists flagrantly break coronavirus rules... while questioning adviser Cummings about breaking coronavirus rules

And it has been full-on gotcha journalism for the past three days. The pack scents blood and they want to go in for the kill. Journalists have been puffing themselves up with righteous indignation, reeling off the most emotive aspects of the lockdown to throw at Boris Johnson and his ministers as they seek to explain why Cummings will be staying in his job.

What about the funerals people were told they couldn’t attend, the sick relatives in hospital they couldn’t visit? While the rest of us were suffering, the prime minister’s right-hand man was driving up and down the country with a sick wife, apparently in breach of the rules. If Cummings was acting on parental ‘instinct,’ why wasn’t that choice accorded to the rest of us?

Tory MPs have been dragged out to demand his resignation. The former chief constable of Durham police told the Telegraph: ‘How on Earth are the police supposed to enforce the rules now? What has happened has completely holed the legislation that was introduced to keep people safe, below the waterline. It is dead in the water.’ Keeping Cummings, we are told, will cost lives as the lockdown unravels.

Misplaced obsession

In one respect, this anger is well placed. The climate of fear provoked by the government over Covid-19, and the lockdown rules that have been implemented, have indeed robbed us of the right to use our common sense in judging what is safe and unsafe. The government and the authorities have worked on the basis that we are not to be trusted, with the full force of the law to be employed if necessary.

But it is not breaches of the lockdown that are now costing lives, it is the lockdown itself. Thousands of elderly patients were discharged from hospitals without being tested for the virus, helping to fuel an epidemic in care homes that has led to at least 10,000 deaths. Those tests were unavailable because of the failure of Public Health England and health services in other parts of the UK to get organized to provide them.

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Meanwhile, the testing, assessment and treatment for other conditions like cancer have been put on hold – inevitably leading to many deaths in the months and years to come. Yet hospitals are now half-empty as the Covid-19 epidemic peters out. As I have noted before for RT, the Nightingale hospitals have barely had any patients, never mind the thousands they were built to treat. The government demand that we ‘protect the NHS’ has been met – but, it seems, at the cost of the lives of thousands of patients.

The economy has gone into meltdown, with millions of jobs lost or about to be lost. Living standards could take years to recover. Many people will see their life chances badly affected by the government’s unwillingness to take anything more than the most cautious steps to bring things back to normal.

This situation is truly scandalous. Yet the media seems obsessed with Cummings. That is because of who he is: the mastermind of the successful campaign to get the UK out of the EU and chief tactician as Johnson won an overwhelming election victory last year. The liberal elites of the UK despise Cummings and want his head on a metaphorical platter.

We have the scandal of failed government policies. And we can add to that the scandal of a mainstream media that is utterly failing in its main task: to hold governments to account.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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