The English novelist George Orwell once said, ‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed’. Not only do I like this quote, but I agree with it. I personally don’t think a good journalist should be liked; a good journalist might one day report on something that makes you like them, but the next day, because they’re a good journalist, will report on something you don’t like.
Laura Kuenssberg is an example of a brilliant political journalist because, I’d argue, absolutely everyone hates her (hyperbole intended): Tory or Labour; male or female; Christian or Atheist; Leave or Remain; for Scottish independence or against: because she reports on the facts, people don’t like her. Any fact will always be damming to a group.
Kuenssberg has received anger from all directions in the past few years. During this year’s snap election, she was given a bodyguard, after she received abuse from Labour, Tory, and UKIP supporters. Crucially here, she required protection from extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP, said of Kuenssberg earlier this year ‘It is her job to ask difficult questions. It is her job to be sceptical about everything we say.’
Cooper is right; journalists report on facts but sometimes, people don’t like the facts. In July 2016 for example, Labour experienced resignation after resignation. Over a period of a few days, 21 members of the shadow cabinet resigned, as well as another 31 shadow ministers. This is a fact. As political editor, she is compelled to report on the facts, yet reporting on this chain of resignations resulted in her receiving online abuse from Labour supporters. In March this year, she reported on Theresa May’s Brexit strategy; she reported facts, and yet she was attacked by Brexiteers. Here we have two examples of facts being reported, and the groups who don’t like those facts opposing.
On Wednesday, The Canary published an article entitled ‘We need to talk about Laura Kuenssberg. She’s listed as an ‘invited’ speaker at the Tory Party conference’. The article claimed that ‘BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg is listed as an invited speaker at the Conservative Party conference. And the news raises questions about the impartiality of the journalist and her organisation’. In actual fact, she was invited, but turned down the invitation. Crucially, her declining was known before the article was published. So why publish this story? I’d assume, for clicks.
The BBC is a huge institution and thus vulnerable to accusations of bias. By publishing fake news, you mislead the public. Here we have news that arguably isn’t factual, that is misogynistic, and encourages the form of the abuse that led to the BBC employing a bodyguard for Kuenssberg at the Labour Party conference. The media have the power to influence the masses, for better or for worse. Misleading news is dangerous, and has real consequences.
I don’t believe any anger directed towards Laura Kuenssberg has been justified. There have in the past been journalists who have been biased, often to sell a story – Piers Morgan, for example. Kuenssberg has, throughout her career, received a lot of anger, from a lot of different people; it’s difficult to quantify, but the anger she receives seems more than what her predecessor Nick Robinson received. Is this because she’s a woman? Perhaps, but I believe that it’s something else.
I liked Nick Robinson a lot (indeed, he remains brilliant on the Today Programme), but I’d argue Kuenssberg receives more abuse, because she’s a better journalist; she asks the tough questions. If a Tory or Labour MP doesn’t answer her question (i.e. gives her a politicians’ answer), she’ll press said MP mercilessly until she gets the answer out of them. That will annoy either the Tory or Labour supporters, but they must understand that Kuenssberg is just doing her job.
If, as a journalist, everyone likes you, you’re not a very good journalist. I return to Orwell: ‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed’. If you don’t like what a journalist has said, it’s probably because they’re doing their job.