In a spectacular c*ck up, the BBC created its very own Brexit hell

Donald Tusk on BBC News
Fréa Lockley

On 6 February, EU president Donald Tusk made an incredibly candid comment about Brexit. “I’ve been wondering,” he said, “what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely”. It caused quite a stir. But the BBC crashed into another circle of hell when it misreported Tusk’s statement.

“That special place in hell”

Tusk spoke just after a meeting with Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, in Brussels:

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Then he followed his comments with a tweet:

But the BBC jumped on the first part of Tusk’s line with an even more provocative headline:

Later, it amended the headline:

But by then it was too late. Because the shit had well and truly hit the fan.

We’re all in it together…

Conservative MPs were outraged with the BBC headline. Home secretary Sajid Javid, for example, swiftly shared the original:

Meanwhile, Conservative MP and arch-Brexiteer Peter Bone read the BBC‘s original headline out in the Commons. He called it a “completely outrageous insult”:

The BBC‘s chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg was quick to share Bone’s comment. She had previously shared Tusk’s full remark. Yet, in her tweet about Bone, she failed to make any reference to the fact that he appeared to be responding to the BBC‘s initial headline and not the full shebang:

Nor did Kuenssberg note in the tweet that SNP MP Joanna Cherry corrected Bone and read out Tusk’s full statement. By the morning of 7 February, Nick Robinson joined the party on BBC Radio 4‘s Today show :

Next level

For many people, the way the BBC misrepresented Tusk’s quote is hugely problematic. As journalist Peter Jukes asked, “Do the errors and cockups only go one way?”

Because there is a crucial distinction between the BBC‘s initial version, and what Tusk actually said.

The BBC‘s initial quote implies that he was critical of everyone who voted for Brexit. The full version, meanwhile, asks an entirely valid question about those who led a manipulative and misleading Leave campaign. It was a campaign so flawed that it not only broke electoral law, but has also provided substantial evidence to suggest the need for a criminal investigation.

And then, let’s not forget that Theresa May has handled negotiations so badly that she lost the biggest ever vote in parliamentary history. With only 50 days to go before the planned leaving date, there’s still no agreed deal and no plan.

So, some people welcomed what Tusk said:

And other’s reflected on the knee jerk response of those who misled people on Brexit:

Meanwhile, as many Conservatives freaked out, one commentator offered a timely reminder of their choice words:

For the BBC to make this reporting error was bad enough. But the way it took wings and flew, with several BBC political correspondents joining in the party, is next level. The BBC has already drifted away from its supposed impartiality. Misrepresenting important statements at such a crucial time for everyone in the UK is worrying, to say the least.

Featured image via screengrab/YouTube

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