“There’s no press here”

Boris Johnson, during a visit to Whipps Cross hospital

September 17, 2019

Claim

A man whose child was a patient at Whipps Cross hospital in east London confronted Johnson in a corridor, in front of television cameras, about the state of the NHS. “The NHS has been destroyed,” the man said. “And now you come here for a press opportunity.” Johnson replied: “Well actually there’s no press here.”

Facts

The man was incredulous. “What do you mean there’s no press here?” he said, pointing at the cameras. “Who are these people?”

Buzzfeed’s Mark Di Stefano later got hold of a government communications briefing about Johnson’s visit to the hospital, which included press quotes attributable to the prime minister.

N.B. Channel 4’s FactCheck later said it was possible Johnson had been referring to the fact that no actual reporters had been invited to the event — only the broadcasters’ shared pool of cameras.

Verdict

This is not the only case in which Johnson instinctively resorted to making a palpably false statement.

This case is also interesting for what it reveals about media complicity in Boris Johnson’s habitual deceit. The story swiftly moved on from Johnson’s false statement to the circumstances surrounding it. First, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg told her 1 million Twitter followers that the man who confronted the prime minister was a Labour activist. In her tweets about the incident, Kuenssberg failed to mention Johnson’s false statement. The next day several newspapers reported that the BBC had come out in support of Kuennsberg after she was criticised for her tweets. The Daily Telegraph only mentioned Johnson’s false statement about the press at the very bottom of its story. In an article which is no longer on its website, The Independent did not mention it at all.

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