The irony is enough to give you a nosebleed. The Times is a ‘newspaper of record’ – and yet stories can seemingly vanish into thin air if they embarrass the prime minister.
The Mystery Of The Story About Carrie has been fully explored on Twitter. OK, hands up – I am going on about Twitter again and if you don’t hang out there, you may wonder at the attraction. So do I sometimes, but it is addictive, offers a different slant on the news, and can shine a light into dingy corners.
I have no inside knowledge here, but have read the theories. To upend a Sherlock Holmes reference, the dog did bark but then it was muzzled. And, to splodge another metaphor on the word palette, that story turned out to have been written in disappearing ink.
Early print editions of the Times on Saturday contained the now-vanished political scoop by Simon Walton, a veteran reporter who used to work for the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.
The headline to Walton’s story was: “Johnson tried to give Carrie top Foreign Office job during affair.”
The story reported that in 2018 Johnson wanted to appoint Carrie Symonds (as she then was) to a £100,000-a-year government job but was eventually dissuaded from what seems to have been the usual act of outrageous nepotism.
The report was quickly withdrawn without comment or explanation, gone in an inky puff of what we can assume was cowardice. But a few copies escaped into the wild, as you can see above.
Did Johnson ask for this story to be killed because it showed him in a bad light (most stories do that anyway); did Downing Street pounce while he was away; or did their boss order the ‘hit’ from a distance?
Another possibility was that second thoughts were had, that the story didn’t stand up and… oh, let’s not go there; the story would have been researched, checked, OK’d and ‘legalled’, and Simon Walton was prepared to stand firm by his words.
Safer to assume Johnson wanted it gone. This afternoon Downing Street admitted as much, saying it had asked the Times to withdraw the story.
The official version is this request did not come from Johnson himself, and you can believe that if you wish (other possibilities are flapping in the wind).
If this was an attempt to stop another embarrassing story about Boris Johnson, it failed. For Twitter was flooded with pictures of the now vanished story, and more people were talking about the story than if it had remained in the newspaper.
Why the Times felt it had to cave into pressure from Downing Street says a lot about how things work in this country. The Tories in general, and Johnson in particular, receive endless support from the right-wing newspapers, and this in turn reflects the way the broadcasters cover stories, especially the BBC.
Outside of Twitter, the story of this disappearance was hardly covered at all, with an honourable exception being Tim Walker at the New European. Walker, a former colleague of Johnson’s at the Telegraph, is not a fan.
It took the Guardian 24 hours to follow up the story, and the BBC only covered the story on its website after Downing Street admitted it has asked for the story to be dropped.
And if you think we deserve newspapers that are prepared to probe and question everything any government does, no matter their political persuasion, you won’t hear an argument from me. But it won’t happen soon or probably ever.
As an example of blind-eyed bias, in the US the Murdoch-owned Fox News initially declined to show any coverage of the January 6 hearings into whether Donald Trump should be blamed for the mob that invaded the Capitol. The Trump-friendly news station just looked the other way, not wishing to blemish the man they had supported, at a weary guess. But then they have covered subsequent days. Some stories are too big to ignore.
As for the Times, I don’t buy that newspaper, being a Guardian/Observer type, although as a part-time hypocrite, I will read a copy if someone else has paid for it.
Will this story damage the Times more that it does Boris Johnson? That’s usually the way it works with that man.