The on-going inquiry into the way Boris Johnson handled the Covid pandemic reinforces the conclusion in the title. Actually, not the inquiry as such, but the TV coverage of it.
This morning I again consumed my requisite five minutes of Sky News at breakfast and almost suffered catastrophic reflux. The croissant I was eating couldn’t force its way into my stomach, already filled to the brim with cloying on-screen sentimentality.
The announcer was interviewing a fiftyish woman with frizzy hair whose father had died of Covid, one of over 200,000 Britons suffering that fate. The statistics involved have been investigated from every possible angle, demographic, ethnographic, psychographic, cardiographic – even pornographic for all I know.
One breakdown that’s sorely missing is moral, which leaves us in the dark about the personalities of the deceased. However, judging by media coverage, such information would be superfluous. We already know that every victim had to be an upstanding individual adored by everyone he ever came in contact with, including fellow passengers on public transport.
Today’s bereaved interviewee said nothing to compromise that impression: her recollections of her late father were nothing short of gushing. To be fair, she had been encouraged by the interviewer who was dead-set on exploring the hell out of the human angle.
“Tell us about your father,” she invited with a compassionate half-smile.
Let me remind you that the segment was about the Covid inquiry, not the personality profile of the British population. Hence the only relevant reply would have been “He died of Covid”. I wish someone had reminded the interviewer of that salient fact. In the absence of such prompting, she popped that leading question, and it could only lead one way.
The bereaved woman proceeded to sketch a verbal portrait that would put some saints to shame. Her hallowed father was gentle, affectionate, kind, still hard-working in his early seventies. He loved nothing more than playing with his grandchildren, mowing his neighbours’ lawns, helping old ladies across the street – frankly, I don’t remember every detail. But you get the overall picture.
Since for old times’ sake I like to establish logical links, I tried to understand exactly what that information had to do with the topic in hand, the government’s handling or mishandling of the pandemic.
Let me see if I can detect the underlying assumption. If the deceased was a dyed-in-the-wool bastard who used his grandchildren for punching bags when he didn’t use them for sexual gratification, who poisoned his neighbours’ pets, drove a petrol car, cheated on his taxes and voted Leave, then he would have deserved dying, and Johnson would have no case to answer.
Is that it? No? Then what is? And why is it that whenever our media cover victims of anything, be it crime, war, epidemic or terrorism, each one has to be a picture of perfection? Why isn’t a single one ever a sorry excuse for a human being? Such reprobates do exist, don’t they? If so, they have to be statistically represented in any large sample, give or take a percentage point.
Staying in the realm of logic, one has to come to the conclusion that good-for-nothing reprobates never die. And since we happen to know that’s not the case, logic can’t possible apply here.
As to the inquiry itself, I can’t make heads or tails of it. Some people accuse Johnson of imposing the lockdown too early. Others say he imposed it too late. Some say the lockdown was too tight. Others say it was too lax. Still others say he shouldn’t have imposed it at all.
Poor Boris Johnson seems as confused as I am. He started out by stating how very sorry he was for all the tragic deaths, which didn’t go down well with the baying public. The building where Johnson lies stretched on the rack is permanently surrounded by crowds bearing placards.
They say “The dead can’t hear your apologies”, which is undeniably true. They also say all kinds of other things, such as asking Mr Johnson if he could bring daddy back. That question is consistent with this Christmas season, although one can’t easily imagine a British prime minister saying: “Arise and walk”.
One protester screamed “You are a murderer!” from the galleries, which accusation suggested malice aforethought on Mr Johnson’s part. Yet even his political detractors refrain from insisting he is part of a sinister conspiracy to depopulate Britain.
While this morning’s interviewee commendably didn’t couch her displeasure with Johnson in such uncompromising terms, she made it clear she held him personally responsible for her father’s demise. A man like that, she said, should never be allowed to hold any public office again.
The interviewer, an empathetic grimace permanently pasted onto her face, egged on the bereaved woman expertly, thanking her in the end for sharing her story of woe with the audience. The viewers, I among them, had to dine on the froth while being denied the meat of the issue.
In a way, that’s understandable because no one really knows what the meat is. I certainly don’t, which is why I’ve always expressed myself on the issue of Covid with uncharacteristic reticence.
When I criticise public officials for doing something wrong, I usually know – or at least think I know – how they should have done it right. In this case I don’t, which is why I sympathise with Mr Johnson.
He had no experience in handling pandemics. And whatever prior knowledge he had encouraged complacency. Things like swine flu or assorted Asian blights, for example, had caused a great outburst of scaremongering that later proved unjustified.
Even when the scale of the Covid pandemic became clearer, Johnson was flooded with contradictory advice.
Some experts insisted on introducing an immediate lockdown, others were arguing that doing so early, before the pandemic reached its peak, would lead to ‘behavioural fatigue’ and reduced public compliance at the time it was most needed. Others beseeched Johnson to consider the economic, social and educational consequences of a lockdown. Accepting a certain number of excess deaths, they were saying, was the lesser evil.
His political advisers, a breed not known for putting emotional sensitivity first, were calculating the electoral credit and debit of each possible decision, which caused the ire of today’s interviewee. All the politicians wanted, she said, was to cover their own… she didn’t utter the word on her mind and instead took a couple of seconds to find a nicer one, ‘interests’.
In effect, she accused politicians of being politicians, which is an irrefutable charge if I’ve ever heard one.
All in all, the programme did nothing to elucidate the issue for me. It left too many lingering questions unanswered. Such as, why did Covid selectively target only saintly men, leaving TV announcers intact?