The Anatomy of #Bigotgate

For those living on Europa or Enceladus; for those reading these archives on other worlds, ten thousand years hence, when all our election chatter will be no more than a particle of sand on a mite in a desert; and for those on the Isle of Wight… Yesterday’s news story was all about a Gordon Brown gaffe. He had an unsatisfactory exchange with a voter, and then was caught muttering that she was a bigot.  The BBC picked this up on one of their microphones, and Brown was forced to apologise.  Cue a media and internet frenzy.
The first thing to note (again) is just how quickly the political news cycle rotates these days.  By the time most of us had found out what had happened, the Prime Minister was already on the doorstep of Mrs Gillian Duffy, apologising in person and then (bizarrely) smirking about it.
The First Spin of the Top:  The Gaffe
In the digital age, politicians are coming under scrutiny in a way they could never have been before.  Previous Prime Ministers would not have had disposable lapel microphones trailing off their jackets, and news teams would not have been able to disseminate their utterances in real-time to the world.  Every mobile phone is a microphone now, or a bug, if you will.  Mehdi Hassan reminds us that Barack Obama’s biggest gaffe was very similar, when he said that many people “cling to guns and religion”.  Moreover, with Internet in our pockets and on our desks, we are Funes – we all have a perfect memory of what has been said and written, and it comes back to haunt us: bloggers, aspiring politicians and party leaders together.
The Second Spin of the Top: The Propaganda
This draining of power away from the politicians has been evidence ever since we gave the name ‘spin doctors’ to the PR men who try to control the message.  To name them, to allow them to be celebrities in their own right, is akin to pointing out the curtain in The Wizard of Oz – Once you know its there, you cannot help but look behind and expose the crippled wizard for what he really is.  We live in highly skeptical times… and that’s great.
The Third Spin of the Top: The Backlash
What has changed since the last British General election, is that the mainstream media have also lost control of the narrative.  They too are being subjected to this scrutiny.  I discussed last week how the spin placed upon stories by the media is equally as unreliable as the politicans at the centre of the discussion.  The public reaction to the story itself, and also to the woefully inadequate media coverage of the Mrs Duffy incident, was easily discernable via twitter and teh blogs.

@BeauBodOr: Sky News Breaking: Exclusive interview with nephew of Channel 4 reporter who interviewed Gillian Duffy’s niece

This development is also great, and interesting.  As always, a consensus emerges from the chatter.  Its interesting that in this case, the media narrative (hugely damaging to Brown) is in fact tempered by the commentary and analysis that appears online and can be shared through Twitter.  The new media counters the traditional media and balances it.  Hard to believe, but without the new technology, I think yesterday would have been worse for Mr Brown.

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