People are calling out the BBC for publishing fake news about Jeremy Corbyn. But other media outlets responded by just repeating it.
Twisting the truth
John Pienaar interviewed Unite the union’s Len McCluskey on his Pienaar’s Politics show on 26 March. McCluskey is currently standing for re-election as general secretary of Unite. During the BBC Radio 5 live programme, Pienaar asked McCluskey whether he believed Corbyn can take the Labour Party back into government at the next general election. McCluskey said that Corbyn should have the opportunity to put his case to the British people. He also said:
I would suggest that the next fifteen months or so will give us the answers to that.
McCluskey directly identified the media’s role in giving Corbyn that opportunity. But the response to McCluskey’s single sentence suggested that media outlets don’t plan on heeding his call.
Pienaar seized on McCluskey’s “fifteen months” figure. He asked whether McCluskey was suggesting Corbyn should stand aside after that time had passed if the polls haven’t turned around. McCluskey responded:
You’ve been at me for months and months to kind of come up with timescales, I’m not going to do that.
Following the show, the BBC published an article on the interview. It carried the headline:
Give Jeremy Corbyn 15 months, says Len McCluskey
Jeremy Corbyn warned he has just a year to turn Labour round by union boss Len McCluskey
While The Telegraph went with:
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn given 15 months to save his job by major union backer Len McCluskey
The media message was clear: if McCluskey is the leader of the Unite union in fifteen months, he will withdraw support from Corbyn at that time if he’s performing badly in the polls. Except that’s not what he said at all. He merely said that if Corbyn can “break through this horrible image that the media have placed on his back”, we should expect to see that reflected in the polls by that point.
Calling out the media
The BBC‘s twisting of the truth, however, did not pass by unnoticed. Some commentators called it out:
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) March 26, 2017
BBC: "Give Jeremy Corbyn 15 months, says Len McCluskey" Umm, except that's not what he said, is it? You should know, you broadcasted it… pic.twitter.com/PGaACNTlvO
— EL4C (@EL4JC) March 26, 2017
Ironically, this incident bolsters the argument McCluskey made on the Pienaar’s Politics programme. The media play a crucial role in how politicians’ messages and ideas are delivered to the public. So if outlets distort what politicians are saying or doing, or what others say about them, it matters.
And the BBC‘s reporting on McCluskey’s interview illustrated exactly why it does.
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