“Did [Insert Name Here] Infect Boris Johnson?”: Mail on Sunday Milks Old Theme With New Speculation

From Glen Owen at the Mail on Sunday:

Did Jeremy Corbyn’s Marxist henchman Seumas Milne infect Boris Johnson AND Dominic Cummings with coronavirus during Downing Street visit?

The Mail on Sunday has established that on the evening of March 16 – during the last days of his party leadership – Mr Corbyn visited Mr Johnson at No 10 with his most senior adviser, former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne.

Joining them in Mr Johnson’s cramped study, as they discussed the Government’s response to the epidemic and whether there should be a lockdown, was the Prime Minister’s aide [shurely “henchman”?], Dominic Cummings.

A few days after the meeting, Mr Milne developed a fever and a loss of taste and smell – symptoms of coronavirus – and went into self-isolation.

…A Downing Street source said it was ‘unclear how the Prime Minister had been infected’ and Mr Johnson ‘was not pointing the finger at Seumas’.

…A Downing Street spokesman declined to comment.

Well, of course the “Downing Street spokesman declined to comment” – what was there to add, given that the “Downing Street source” had already provided a quote and, we may suspect, further background details?  The Johnson–Corbyn meeting on 16 Match is a matter of public record (Daily Telegraph: “Boris Johnson meets with Jeremy Corbyn. A Labour Party spokesperson confirms that Mr Corbyn will be meeting with the Prime Minister this evening”), and the presence of Milne and Cummings can be taken as a given.

The Mail on Sunday article also makes passing references to Nadine Dorries and Michel Barnier as other possible sources of Johnson’s infection – and some readers may remember that the latter was the focus of an earlier version of the same story published back on 28 March, also co-written by Owen:

Did Michel Barnier infect Boris Johnson? The EU’s Brexit negotiator could be Downing Street’s ‘Patient Zero’ after Brussels meeting

…The Mail on Sunday has traced connections between those known to have the virus in an attempt to identify Downing Street’s possible ‘Patient Zero’ – the first person in a community to become infected.

And suspicion has fallen on a meeting in Brussels on March 5 between Mr Barnier and David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, which opened the first round of talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

Both articles are incredibly stupid: we know that Johnson was sloppy when it came to taking precautions against infection (3 March: “I was at a hospital where there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody”), and his work and private life brought him into contact with dozens of people on a daily basis. The public figures identified by the Mail on Sunday as having met Johnson at official meetings in March represent just the tip of an iceberg of contacts. Dorries also features in the March article, but there’s no sign of Corbyn or Milne.

Perhaps the stories are not meant to be taken very seriously, but such a clownish parody of contact tracing risks misleading the public about how the virus spreads. And if I were a health or science hack at the paper I would be incredibly irritated to see the deputy political editor blundering so far outside of his lane. But it’s par for the course – as I’ve noted previously, over the past few months Owen has penned numerous articles promoting claims that Covid-19 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, often including sensationalising distortions (e.g. here and here). It is possible that Owen’s articles even played a role in Donald Trump’s decision to defund coronavirus research, as I discussed here.

It is reasonable to assume that all Owen’s Covid-themed stories have relied heavily on “Downing Street sources”. But the return to the subject of who infected Johnson at this moment in time – apparently just to take a gratuitous pop at Corbyn and Milne – seems particularly egregious. Perhaps the headline’s reference to whether Milne was also the source of Dominic Cummings’s infection is meant to distract us from the question of whom Cummings may have infected when he travelled to Durham and visited Barnard Castle. Whatever the reason, though, this goes beyond client journalism, into the realm of gimp journalism.

One Response

  1. Just wondering how you define gimp journalism here:


    (1) a derogatory term for someone that is disabled or has a medical problem that results in physical impairment.

    (2) An insult implying that someone is incompetent, stupid, etc. Can also be used to imply that the person is uncool or can’t/won’t do what everyone else is doing.

    (3) A sex slave or submissive, usually male, as popularlized by the movie Pulp Fiction.
    Look at that gimp in the wheelchair

    Dude, quit being a gimp and take a hit!

    Bring out the gimp!
    by Pymp November 01, 2003

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