When did news become the saying of stupid things?

FAKE news is a thing much muttered or even shouted about. Let me now introduce you to flake news.

Yesterday the news flaked. Or maybe it was the day before that. Or the headline-battered week before that. Whenever it happened, yesterday was the day I noticed all the flakes falling off the headlines, leaving a mess like that created when the cat scratches the rattan basket where we keep newspapers. On reflection, maybe the cat is just trying to get at those headlines.

Almost every day the news is filled with whatever stupid thing one of the usual suspects just said. “People saying stupid things” seems to be the prime generator of headlines. Donald Trump says something stupid and the journalists scurry to report the stupid thing he said, did or tweeted; Boris Johnson says something stupid and the journalist scurry to report the stupid thing he said, did or wrote in a column.

In doing this, we pay unending homage to attention junkies afloat on a sea of self-made stupidity. Trump with his tweets; Johnson with his ‘me-me-me’ interventions in political life. And the newspapers and the TV stations, the websites and the bloggers – we all oblige them by reporting the stupid thing and then commenting on it or following up what was said about the stupid thing.

“Stupid man says stupid thing,” becomes the headline of the day, until a fresh stupid thing supplants the first stupid thing.

Yesterday this seemed to a new nadir after Boris Johnson had used a lively but unwise metaphor to describe Mrs Maybe’s handling of the Brexit negotiations.

In a column for one of the Sunday newspapers, he wrote that the prime minister had “wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution” and handed the detonator to the EU.

Far too much was made of this, with the whole day’s news being filled with Johnson and his suicide vest. And when I put it like that, I don’t mean that he was wearing it, more’s the pity. Perhaps it is a string vest that he wears. Maybe we could ask some of the many women he has had affairs with, as they might be better informed.

Johnson and Trump at brilliant at deflection and causing a distraction, with Johnson’s efforts arising just as news of his divorce hit the headlines. The logic seems to be that when one fire starts burning, you start another.

My favourite reaction to Johnson’s stupid metaphor came from Paddy O’Connell on Broadcasting House. This BBC radio 4 magazine offers a sane place to consider the news, mixing serious reporting with the enjoyable slap of the smart-aleck. After reading out the latest stupid thing Johnson had said about handing the detonator to the EU, Paddy guffawed and said that Boris didn’t seem to know how suicide vests worked.

That seemed to be the best comment of the lot. All that needed to be said, although, sadly, an awful lot more was said.

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