breaking news from the world of ideas

by James Billot
Friday, 12
March 2021

Did Joe Biden instruct the media on election night?

The authors of an insider account of Joe Biden’s fortuitous path to the White House, ‘Lucky‘, have let slip a rather eye-popping detail.

Appearing on the 538 podcast, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes revealed, almost nonchalantly, some details about the role the media played on the night of the election and its aftermath. When asked about how prepared, if at all, the Biden campaign was for Trump’s refusal to concede and the events that followed November 3rd, they responded (43:50):

Biden’s team was very very prepared for this — they went out to the networks before the election and said don’t call it early. It’s going to look like Trump’s ahead — the red mirage as it’s called — and then eventually more democratic votes will get counted late particularly in Pennsylvania and so they were able to hold off the networks for a while. As it turned out, they may have been a bad thing for them in the public perception because they might have been declared early if the networks weren’t primed to hold off for a while. [emphasis mine]
- Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes, 538

See 43:50 for the key exchange

Media bias in America is nothing new — however much certain networks may try to claim otherwise, nearly every broadcast organisation in the country leans either Left or Right to varying degrees. But what does appear to be new is the extent of influence that campaign teams have on the mechanics of the news coverage itself. That the Biden team was able to “prime” the networks as to when to call an election is deeply disturbing. If this kind of thing were to occur in Russia, for instance, networks like CNN and MSNBC would no doubt be in uproar (not least because they spent four years propagating the Russiagate conspiracy); or, closer to home: imagine if it was Trump, not Biden, attempting to manipulate coverage in this way. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 24
February 2021

Cameron and Blair united against extremism? What could go wrong?

Extremists are gaining the upper hand” booms today’s Times editorial by Sara Khan, the commissioner to counter extremism and Sir Mark Rowley, former head of counter-terrorism policing. The pair argue that the UK should take a ‘tougher line on extremism’ with legislation that eliminates the gap in our laws between terrorism, which is already illegal, and extremist activity that ‘stops short of the definition of terrorism’.

The editorial is the latest in a long line of articles and think pieces calling for tougher action on online extremism. But what gives this one an added punch is that it has received the blessing of two former prime ministers, David Cameron and Tony Blair, and faith leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Thursday, 18
February 2021

If even David Icke fans aren’t anti-vaxxers…

A newly published study by King’s College London investigates the link between lockdown scepticism and vaccine hesitancy, suggesting that people who trust prominent lockdown sceptics are less likely to get the vaccine.

Listing a full gamut of influential Covid voices — ranging from Sir Patrick Vallance to David Icke — on who respondents trust, the survey asks a series of vaccine-related questions, such as whether respondents’ vaccine scepticism would put them off a Covid vaccine:

Half (52%) of those who trust David Icke say that opposition to vaccines in general is likely to persuade them not to get a Covid vaccine, as do significant minorities of people who trust other lockdown sceptics like Denise Welch (40%), Laurence Fox (33%) and Nigel Farage (31%). ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 17
February 2021

Joe Biden’s easy ride with reporters

Following Donald Trump’s departure from the White House, journalists across America breathed a collective sigh of relief. After four years of feeling “burnt out” by the psychic trauma of Trump’s presidency, now was finally time that they could “get back to normalcy” and report on a “mostly, a normal, sane, empathetic presidential voice. FINALLY”.

The bravery of these indefatigable reporters notwithstanding, it is heartening to see that they are FINALLY ready to get back to the business of reporting. The Fourth Estate’s role in holding the president to account is, after all, one of the core pillars of democracy — so how have they been getting on? Below is a selection of some of the most fearless, agenda-shattering stories that we have seen during Biden’s term in office so far: ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 10
February 2021

Lockdown scepticism is not Euroscepticism repackaged

Nigel Farage, Toby Young, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Allison Pearson, Dan Hannan… what do these names have in common? They are all prominent lockdown sceptics, but also (in what seems like a lifetime ago) ardent Brexiteers.

On the face of it, support for Brexit and lockdown scepticism have much in common: an anti-establishment feeling, pro-business and a streak of libertarianism.

But new research from King’s College London presents an entirely different picture. According to the paper, there is no link between lockdown scepticism and pro-Brexit values — in fact, it is quite the opposite. Based on a survey of roughly 2,000 people, researchers asked questions based on 10 values — universalism, benevolence, tradition/conformity, security, power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation and self-direction — to explain a large range of attitudes and behaviours, including political ones. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Monday, 18
January 2021

Michael Gove’s three point plan for tackling wokeness

Ever since Boris Johnson came to power, the Conservative Party’s “war on woke” has become increasingly explicit. Towards the end of last year, Tory MP John Hayes launched the Common Sense Group of around 60 or so MPs and peers in a bid to celebrate “British values” that are not “coloured by Marxist dogma, colloquially known as the ‘woke agenda'”. A month later, International Trade Minister Liz Truss gave a speech in which she claimed that the case for equality was being driven too much by identity politics.

The ubiquity of the word has made it something of a cliché, and so far Tory ministers have refrained from using it. But when Michael Gove was directly questioned about how to combat wokeness in last week’s Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation event, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster gave an interesting answer. Having fought his own proto-culture war when he served as Education Minister between 2010-2014, Gove is clearly well-attuned to the dynamics, as he makes clear, in his three point plan: ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Monday, 11
January 2021

After Twitter, where will Donald Trump go next?

56,571 tweets, 88 million followers and a 12-year career on the channel. Donald Trump is said to have gone “ballistic” after Twitter permanently closed his account this week, marking an end to a fractious and weirdly co-dependent relationship with the social media giant. Though his presidential account remains intact, it will only be in Trump’s hands for nine more days until it is passed on to Joe Biden (in another example of norm-breaking behaviour, the Trump team has decided to erase the account of its followers instead of passing them down).

With Trump also banned from Facebook until he is out of office, the President, according to a White House statement (in a now-deleted tweet), is now “negotiating with various other sites” as to where he will go next. Here are his options. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Thursday, 7
January 2021

Will the New York Times commission Senator Cotton now?

Few members of America’s political class have covered themselves in glory over the past 24 hours, but some have fared better than others. Yesterday evening, Sen. Tom Cotton, a Trump loyalist from Arkansas and potential 2024 presidential candidate produced this statement:

“Last summer, as insurrection gripped the streets, I called to send in the troops if necessary to restore order. Today, insurrectionists occupied our Capitol. Fortunately, the Capitol Police and other law-enforcement agencies restored order without the need for federal troops. But the principle remains the same: no quarter for insurrectionists. Those who attacked the Capitol today should face the full extent of federal law.

It’s past time for the president to accept the results of the election, quit misleading the American people, and repudiate mob violence. And the senators and representatives who fanned the flames by encouraging the president and leading their supporters to believe that their objections could reverse the election results should withdraw those objections. In any event, the Congress will complete its constitutional responsibilities tonight.”

- Tom Cotton Statement on violence at Capitol

This is the same Tom Cotton who was widely decried by the America’s liberal elite as a fascist for suggesting that Trump send in the federal troops to break up the Black Lives Matter protests. His infamous op-ed in The New York Times resulted in editor James Bennet’s dismissal, a staff revolt and a frenzy of online denunciations ...  Continue reading