I saw this tweet yesterday. My first thought was to include it in my collection of SNP grievances as it plays to the recurrent ‘mainstream media does us down’ thread of the nationalist psyche. But as I write, today is the day of the UK government budget and I’m sure there will be at least one gem in the grievances the SNP find in the budget, whatever it includes. Nor am I interested in the particular MP who tweeted the graph. I’ve not mentioned him before and probably won’t again. He has plenty of foibles that others highlight frequently but they are neither here nor there in the bigger issues at stake in Scottish politics.
A number of things struck me about this graph.
First, whatever it’s saying (of which more soon) it is given veracity by the attribution ‘Department of Politics. University of Liverpool.’ But for the life of me, can I track that down? I’ve googled everything I can think of that might reveal the original source of the information and got nowhere. I’ve done a reverse image search and all it throws up are graphs on completely unrelated topics but in the same shade of ‘red = danger.’ I’ve searched the Liverpool University web site. Nothing.
So the first thing we can say about the information in the graph is that, on the face of it, it is completely impossible to verify. It could be fact, it could be fiction.
Second, and let’s assume there is some basis of fact in the information, all it says is that one of 59 ‘leader columns’ was ‘positive.’ We don’t know what positive means and we don’t know whether the other 58 were ‘negative.’ That’s not what the graph says. The others could have been neutral or balanced.
Third, we have no other numbers to give context to ‘59 leader columns.’ What period is covered by the information? How many leader columns did the newspapers concerned publish during that period? How many and what proportion were positive about other political parties? We know none of the answers to these questions but a lot of red on a graph looks impressive.
Fourth, on the face of it, the ‘national press’ seems to be taken as the UK daily national press, although the Independent and (heaven forfend) The Daily Star are missing. As are the Sundays, unless they’re subsumed within the numbers for their daily editions. Some of the newspapers also have Scottish editions or sister papers. We don’t know if they are included in the numbers in the graph or whether the research (if it exists) included separate analyses of them.
Fifth, there is a difference between a ‘leader column’ and news. A leader is a newspaper’s editorial opinion. News is news and as the great C P Scott said ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred.’ We do not know how any of the newspapers in the graph reported the facts about the SNP during the general election. My guess is that the average reader takes a lot more notice of the news in a newspaper than the opinions in its leader column.
Sixth, you’ll notice the sources of where to get ‘the news you’re not getting’ underneath the graph. And here we get to both the real point of the graphic and begin to descend into farce.
All four websites approach current affairs from an avowedly nationalist perspective. Only one, The National, has anything approaching a true news-gathering capacity, and then only as part of the larger UK-wide but US-owned Newsquest group. Two, Bella Caledonia and Wings over Scotland, don’t even pretend to gather news. Both are tendentious, the one often ludicrous, the other vicious. I leave you to guess which is which.
Is that enough? Six big reasons to doubt information presented as fact on an SNP MP’s twitter feed. A moment ago when I checked, his tweet had been liked 68 times and retweeted 192 times. That’s nearly 200 people who probably buy into the story (or fiction) that the dodgy graph tells, enough at least to pass it on to many other readers.
I’ve written before about how nationalism needs myths to survive and flourish. In this one tweet a whole raft of myths are perpetuated and extended – by a senior elected Scottish politician. The one thing you can be sure of is that the graph does not, as Angus MacNeil claims, ‘show us exactly what type of press the SNP gets.’
Finally, even if the graph is entirely true, so what? It didn’t stop the SNP almost sweeping the board in Scotland in the general election that the graph supposedly relates to. It seems as if the SNP not only want electoral success, they also want to do down what they see as any critical voices in the media.