When something awful happens, a national tragedy such as a terrorist attack, your first instinct is to think about the families who lost a loved one and the trauma of the people who lived through but survived the attack.
What you hope is that the media won’t indulge in exploiting human misery for political ends or to score political points. In other words that they won’t start laundering their own political agenda through personal tragedy.
It happened with the BBC, Brexit and Brendan Cox. Now, in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it has been happening all over again in the US. This time the political agenda pushed is gun control and the Second Amendment. We have followed with increasing concern the use by CNN in particular of survivor David Hogg, who has relentlessly used this tragedy to make political points. This is not about the merits of the gun debate but that, as Ben Shapiro points out, ‘Leftists are parading traumatized teens to make an emotional plea about gun control’. And equally importantly that ‘we shouldn’t let young people make policy’.
Charles C W Cooke explains what the consequences are to exploiting a survivor here: ‘The Parkland survivor has chosen to insert himself into an important national policy debate. We who disagree with his views on guns have a duty to speak up against them.’
Now we would not normally blog on such a uniquely American debate but for this insight by Cooke: ‘Suffering through a terrible crime gives a person no special insight into its causes’. Can we all just write that down – and perhaps send it to the BBC?
We are not saying Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered MP Jo Cox, should not have been heard or prevented from sharing his grief, but once the BBC turned him expert witness, they let him use them, as they used him, to push a particular political agenda, relying on the tragedy to shield that agenda from any criticism. It made the skin crawl.
Despite having just suffered a trauma few of us will ever have to experience, Cox willingly pushed himself in the limelight, and was egged on by the BBC, not as someone explaining his grief as husband and father but as someone who had a particular political agenda to push. That agenda was that Brexit is a big mistake, and worse, that it would further divide Britain and spread ‘hate’.
After the sentencing of his wife’s killer he declared that: ‘The killing was in my view a political act and an act of terrorism’ and that ‘her politics led to directly to her death’. The BBC and other media milked it ruthlessly.
His hope that: ‘the country will also take something from this – that Jo’s death will have meaning’ did just that. It allowed the BBC to raise the spectre of a far right, Nazi threat to society and to pursue their unfounded obsession with a Brexit motivated race hate crime.
It proved a highly effective way to shut down ‘those in politics, the media and our own communities’ who Brendan feared ‘seek to divide us’.
People’s sympathy and common decency made it very difficult for anyone to criticise Mr Cox. How easy it was for the BBC to ‘launder’ its anti-Brexit agenda through him and his grieving family.
Then came the ultimate moral bankruptcy. The BBC (cruelly it turned out) continued to feature and endorse a man well after it was common knowledge he had left Save the Children under some sort of cloud, almost right up to his public downfall.
It seems though from their treatment of the EU’s intervention on Northern Ireland and Brexit yesterday, the BBC has learned absolutely nothing.
Giving an emotional Tony Blair a clear platform to raise the spectre of a return to the Troubles, should Northern Ireland not stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, did not satisfy the BBC’s all out campaign to destroy Brexit.
Radio 4’s Today decided, as well, to wheel out ‘two people who were directly affected by the Troubles’ (one whose brother was killed by a British soldier and one who’d witnessed a British soldier being killed) as expert witnesses on this latest anti-Brexit alarmism. Why? Sarah Montague explained that ‘more than three and half thousand people died because of the existence of that border and who has control and that’s why there is such deep suspicion amongst some that there are ulterior motives at play here’.
What these ulterior motives are, we can only imagine.
Can we all just agree that suffering through a national tragedy is just that – tragic? It does not imbue people with expertise in a particular area, let alone give the media the right to exploit them. Should the mainstream media decide to use a person to make political points it follows that this opens up such a person to debate and criticism on those political points and policy.
And ask yourself – is this really fair to that person? Do they really know what they are letting themselves in for once the media circus goes beyond the personal and on to the political? The answer, usually, is no.