I am appalled by the Phillip Schofield scandal.
Not (absolutely not) by the behaviour of Schofield himself – who seems to have done nothing worse than what innumerable other men in positions of power have done, and continue to do, usually without any reckoning – but by the behaviour of the media, in response.
At a time when there are many serious issues which they should be covering – the war in Ukraine and Putin’s expansionist ambitions, famine in Africa, the dangers of AI, climate change… the list is a long one – the UK media are indulging in the most prurient, hurtful and destructive conduct to do with one man’s personal life, and paying precious little attention to other matters.
Some sections of the print media have lost all sense of perspective or propriety. This is usual of course; but (almost unbelievably) they seem, unfortunately, still to have a disproportionate influence over the national discourse.
The television media, however, are also behaving appallingly badly.
ITV was severely criticised for its pitiless ‘news-gathering’ tactics when Nicola Bulley disappeared; it seems its editors have learned nothing since then, because they are treating Schofield (one of ITV’s own, moreover, and clearly a popular presenter) just as ruthlessly.
As for the BBC – although not able to exhibit righteous indignation at having been deceived and “let down”, as ITV claimed – its ‘news’ programmes have been poring over every detail. One evening’s leading tv news item (and an apparently-interminable one) was the Schofield affair.
The treatment meted out to Schofield, the poor man, reeks of double standards. In public life – at least in politics – lying seems to be par for the course these days: ‘all politicians lie, don’t they’; whereas when questioned privately, about a personal matter, Schofield told a lie and is now being pilloried for it, including by people who can have no direct interest whatsoever.
His treatment also stinks of homophobia, which – in Britain in 2023 – I find a little surprising, and quite depressing. If he were a straight man who had had an ‘unwise but not illegal’, entirely consensual affair where no ‘grooming’ had taken place, with a lover much younger than himself but well over the age of consent – as Schofield has insisted was the case here – I am sure he would have garnered a degree of admiration amid the clutching-at-pearls.
Instead of all the manufactured outrage and vituperation, perhaps the media should be examining, say, (there is much news to choose from), the sudden apparent willingness by Boris Johnson – in a move at odds with his more usual conduct – to be transparent and open, by offering his private phone messages and papers to Lady Hallett, so eager is he to assist with the Covid inquiry!
This is not the evasive Johnson I have come to expect. Could it be that he hopes his own apparent openness, and willingness to co-operate, will be a useful (ie, self-serving) contrast to the resistance being displayed by the government against making information public?
Johnson has always appeared to have an ‘individual’ approach to the truth, and even now (not long home from yet another extravagant holiday) he must be hoping that he will never be found deliberately to have misled Parliament – and on more than one occasion – about lockdown parties at Chequers or elsewhere; whereas Schofield has readily admitted to having lied, when he denied his affair, and is now paying an unimaginable price for it. (Considering the uproar since it became known, I fear it’s all too easy to understand why he tried to deny it.)
Given their entirely different positions in the life of this nation – Schofield has clearly been a popular breakfast TV presenter, whereas Johnson has, ultimately, been responsible for the country’s safety and well-being – whose conduct is more important?
I wish the media would get their priorities right.