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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Sycamore Gap, GB News implosion & more...
PLUS X's Misinformation Misfortune and Bobbi vs Offset 'Cringeterview'
If a Tree Falls on Hadrian’s Wall…
With the news agenda chock full of death and destruction, it is often surprising which stories end of capturing the hearts of British audiences. Enter, (or, more appropriately, exit) the Sycamore Gap tree, which was felled overnight on Wednesday, after 300 years of looming over Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. The fact that the destruction appears to have been man made and purposeful has only stoked the ire of the nation. The National Trust issued a statement with rhetoric worthy of the passing of a head of state, saying, “We are shocked and desperately saddened,” and referring to the tree as “iconic.” The Times quoted a tourist who visited the scene of the crime and declared, “it’s a shock, it’s like somebody graffiti-ing Big Ben on the clock face.” Writer Robert Macfarlane made a poetic connection between the tree’s untimely demise, and the “much broader hostile environment towards the living world in this country.”
Despite the loud hand wringing proliferating social media and the press in reference to this tragedy, is not the outpouring of emotion caused by this incident exactly the proof we need that the heart of Britain has not truly hardened? While we may never agree on the correct state of human nature, when it comes to flora, fauna, animalia and yes, a single tree, we are endearingly and reliably sentimental.
GB News: The first Civil War of the Culture Wars?
Dan Wootton has been suspended by the last employers to stand by him amidst allegations of sexual harassment, among others.
The straw that broke GB News and The Mail’s backs? Wootton laughed when Laurence Fox spouted a misogynistic rant about journalist Ava Evans during his self-titled show on GB News on Wednesday. The gist of the rant: no self-respecting man would “shag” a woman with views like Ava’s.
Rumour is that Wootton ignored instructions to apologise for Fox’s comments on air and that he even skipped past an apology written for him on the autocue.
He later tweeted an apology but came unstuck when Fox shared screenshots of their private conversations, in which Wootton didn’t appear very sorry.
This comes within the broader context of allegations of Wootton soliciting sexual content from ex-employees under the Eastenders-inspired pseudonym, ‘Martin Branning’. The whole thing raises questions of hypocrisy around The Mail, The Sun, and GB News, for (until now) standing by him while acting like arbiters of public morality during the Huw Edwards scandal.
Wootton’s co-host, Calvin Robinson, refused to appear on Wootton’s show without the suspended presenter, citing the right to free speech. There have also been 7,300 Ofcom complaints and widespread calls for the channel to be taken off-air. In hosting Fox’s rant and subsequently apologising for and suspending Wootton, GB News has managed to upset people on all sides of the culture war. The channel is now facing attacks from the inside and outside – whether it can survive remains to be seen.
‘X’ marks the Misinformation
X is under fire for a misinformation crisis after a European Commission study revealed that it harbours the most disinformation among the top social networks. More worryingly, the platform has also eliminated a crucial feature that allowed users to report electoral misinformation, stoking concerns over the unchecked spread of false information.
Since Musk took over Twitter and rebranded, there has been a noticeable shift in the content landscape - progressively becoming a haven for provocative and unfiltered discourse, raising alarms about the potential manipulation and distortion of public opinion. We’ve been watching Musk’s commitment to free speech unfold, and the absence of moderation and control mechanisms will increase the dissemination of misleading narratives. This scenario is particularly problematic ahead of pivotal political junctures, like the UK & US elections.
This trend raises important questions about its future as a bastion for credible information. If left unchecked, it potentially alienates a significant portion of its user base who seek grounded, reliable content. However, the absence of a viable competitor places X in a unique position. Its entrenched influence means that, while the nature of its content may shift, user engagement will probably remain unscathed.
Has the Cringeterview had its day?
An interview between rapper Offset and TikTok personality cum irony merchant Bobbi Althoff went viral this week for mixed reasons that have some questioning whether this genre of comedy journalism has run its course.
Althoff is the apex deadpan Gen Z cool girl, a demographic fast becoming gatekeepers of the ‘rude interview’ artform.
For Brits unfamiliar with Bobbi, imagine Amelia Dimoldenberg without the flirting. (If you don’t know Amelia then you might just live in a nice bubble that will remain unpenetrated by this sometimes-funny, often-irritating content for the rest of time.)
Confronted by the famously loquacious Migos rapper, Althoff took this shtick to a new extreme, leaving Offset (admirably, a lot of commentators think) bantering against a brick wall. Some found the cringeworthy experience funny, particularly Offset’s increasingly lavish attempts to get a laugh or any form of engagement out of Althoff. Others see it, in an age where celebrity access is increasingly gatekept against serious journalist, as an insult to the craft of the interview.
The criticism is in good faith, but misunderstands the motives of both Althoff and her guests. This is pure clickbait with just a drop of ironic comedy flavouring. If Althoff’s getting views and comments – however bemused- she’s happy. The same probably goes for Offset, who is likely getting more attention, plaudits and new fans than he would if he spent two days earnestly pouring his soul out to Rolling Stone about his artistic process. As long as people are watching, don’t expect this kind of content to go anywhere.