Article - Truth vs Fiction

In my last column, I remarked on the degree to which only bad news is news - and the extent to which this has the effect of removing good news from most of the media most of the time. 

In this week's column, I am prompted by the reporting of events in Westminster during recent days to remark on a separate, but connected phenomenon. 

I am not quite sure what to call this phenomenon, but I have provisionally settled on christening it the "mayhem out of mystery" tendency. 

Let me explain. 

The last week in Westminster as anyone who follows these matters will be aware, I became rather closely involved in efforts to work out what procedures Parliament should follow if the Governmemt proves unable to negotiate a deal with the EU that Parliament can accept. 

The "mayhem" to which I refer was the impression of those discussions conveyed by the national media. Anyone reading the papers or staring at a screen or listening to the radio would have gained the impression that massive battles of principle were being fought out in some kind of non-violent sequel to the English Civil War of the 17th Century. 

The "mystery" element lay in the fact that anyone reading, listening to, or watching the media stories would have been extremely hard pressed to explain how the insertion or deletion of three words ("in neutral terms") in two separate Clauses of an Act of Parliament could have this perportedly tremendous significance. 

Of course, because the mystery was sufficiently mysterious, it was possible for the reporting to concentrate exclusively on the perported mayhem - this made the whole thing extremely newsworthy. 

Had anyone been willing to sacrifice large numbers of readers, listeners or viewers by purveying a mind-numbingly boring truth, they would have had to say something like this: "these three words matter very little in practice; no one can at present determine how exactly Parliament will respond to circumstances in which the Government proves unable to reach an acceptable deal with the EU; but Parliament will assuredly find all sorts of means of expressing both its majority and its minority views if and when this sorry result occurs". 

But that would not have sounded like mayhem or mystery and would therefore not have been news of any kind at all. 

Sometimes, indeed often, truth is less strange than and consequently a lot less interesting than, fiction.