The extraordinary row involving the Covid inquiry has been notably dwarfed in the media by the ITV controversy.
What will 2023 be remembered for? The wildfires raging through Canada? The devastating conflict in Sudan? The defamation lawsuits against Fox News? If the hysterical coverage in the UK media this week is anything to go, it will be Phillip Schofield’s resignation from This Morning.
The ex-presenter has dominated the headlines all week following his resignation from ITV after admitting to an ‘unwise but not illegal relationship’ with a younger male colleague. While the story raised wider questions about power imbalances in relationships, and the need for employers to exercise their care of duty, the longevity of a scandal and the intensity of outrage and debate, particularly among the tabloids and right-wing political commentators, has aroused suspicion that Schofield’s downfall could be being used as a distraction from government failings.
Let’s not forget that in just a couple of weeks’ time, in the BBC’s words, ‘one of the most important inquiries in recent British history will start public hearings.’ This week, the Covid inquiry’s chair Baroness Hallet demanded unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks from Boris Johnson, which cover the key periods of the pandemic when he was PM. Hallet insisted the information will be key in her role in deciding what is and isn’t relevant to the inquiry. The government however disagreed and even launched legal action against the Covid inquiry in a last-ditch attempt to protect the material. Labour and the Lib Dems accused Rishi Sunak of a “cover -up” and a “cowardly” attempt to obstruct the inquiry. In another twist to the saga, Boris Johnson bypassed the government’s attempt to keep his unredacted WhatsApp messages secret by handing them over directly to the Covid inquiry.
In digging up more Boris Johnson blunders, the mess keeps piling up for the Tories, and no doubt the government wants to bury the story as quickly as possible,
But the news about the extraordinary row involving the Covid inquiry has been notably dwarfed by the Schofield scandal. On June 1, the Daily Mail, for example, made the ‘This Morning meltdown’ its frontpage story, with a headline reading: ‘Humiliated ITV forced to order Schofield Inquiry.’
The same day, the Express’s frontpage referred to the ITV drama but decided to splash with a story about an alleged ‘eco-mob plot to ruin Derby.’ On July 2, Murdoch’s Sun kept the Schofield scandal in the public domain, with an ‘exclusive’ Phillip Schofield interview.
Meanwhile, GB News seems to have been lapping up the controversy, with Dan Wootton and Eamonn Holmes, two of the channel’s most high-profile presenters, keen to intensify the drama by sharing their own ‘bombshell’ revelations, and thereby boosting their own and GB News’s profiles.
The possibility that the ITV fallout is being used to distract from government sleaze and failings has been suggested. Ceri Hughes asked why on earth was Schofield the main story at the beginning of ITV News?
“Aren’t there much more important things going on or is it all a distraction from what is really happening in the UK??? If we talk about that, it gives the corrupt government a break?” she tweeted.
Political commentator and podcast host Matthew Stadlen made a similar suggestion, tweeting: “The frenzied pile-up on Phillip Schofield is quite disgusting…. So typical of these times for there to be a mass distraction from inflation, mortgage rates and almost 11 million people struggling to pay the bills. Obsessing about Phillip Scofield isn’t going to help.”
Another Twitter user agreed, replying:
“Well, that’s the reason why mainstream Tory media are focusing on it.”
“Utterly shameless distraction… Schofield is not news it’s an HR problem. The government refusing to comply with its own enquiry is news. As is the same government plotting to disenfranchise voters with PhotoID,” wrote another puzzled onlooker.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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