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Why Dominic Cummings will be pleased with newspaper coverage of the Russia report

Boris Johnson's senior aide Dominic Cummings. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA. - Credit: PA

Prince George provided a welcome distraction from the findings of the Russia report for many newspapers, while the red-tops relegated the findings towards the back of their publications.

And so, the Russia report has finally been published. It didn’t say the Russians had interfered with the Brexit referendum. It came up with a far more worrying conclusion: that we don’t know if it interfered, because nobody looked.

As ever, with such reports, every side and every newspaper or broadcaster seizes on the line that best suits it. Farage jumped on ‘no evidence of interference’ as though ‘no evidence’ meant ‘proof it didn’t happen’ and demanded Remainers apologise.

He also took the non-criticism of his funder Arron Banks (dealt with in a redacted section) as vindication of his behaviour.

Coverage of the Russia Report in the Express. Photograph: Express/Twitter – Credit: Archant

Most Remainers have actually moved on from expecting the report to cast doubt on the validity of the referendum. We still think Leave cheated one way or another, but we’re out of the EU. Fair or not, the referendum ship has sailed.

But Russia is still influencing politicians, lawyers, financiers through its oligarch funding. All of that was laid bare in the report. The negligence and absence of vigilance of successive governments and their security services were the key elements – and all the more sharply focused since we suspect Russia of spying on our research labs to get hold of a covid vaccine.

The report paints a scary picture in already scary times – we’ve divorced the EU and turned our backs on its institutions, we’re struggling with covid; we’re at odds with China; we’re preparing to lower standards in all directions to strike some sort of deal – any deal – with the US. So it’s instructive what did our newspapers made of the Russia Report this morning.

Coverage of the Russia Report in the Metro. Photograph: Metro/Twitter. – Credit: Archant

The Guardian, most vociferous in calls for its publication, naturally makes the most of it.

The FT also focuses on the failure – whether through neglect or to suit a political agenda – to look into Russian activity related to the referendum.

The Metro is the only paper to describe the ‘taking the eye off the ball’ attitude as a scandal. It is probably the hardest hitting front page of the day.

Coverage of the Russia Report in the Daily Star. Photograph: Daily Star/Twitter. – Credit: Archant

While the i takes a broader approach on the general level of Russian influence in our politics and a series of bullet-point subheadlines.

The Daily Mail agrees with the Guardian that the report is ‘damning’, but it seems to place to the blame on security services rather than the governments that are supposed to control them. And anyway, it’s Prince George’s birthday, so the story merits only the bottom half of the page.

The Times goes with what looks like an exclusive on beefing up MI5’s powers. It takes the story on nearly 24 hours after the release of the report, so there are good arguments for this splash. But it still leaves the feeling that the government is being let off the hook. And who gave them the scoop?

None of the red-tops – even the anti-government Remainer Mirror – found any space at all on their fronts for the report. The Mirror and Star were both outraged that nurses, junior doctors, hospital porters and care workers (who mostly work in the private sector, so wouldn’t have qualified anyway) were excluded from the largesse of the chancellor’s ‘inflation-busting’ pay rises for Covid heroes.

The Mirror put the report on a spread on 10-11; the Star devoted slightly less space to it than to a kitten on page 15.

The Sun led on a shoo-in Prince Andrew splash (how long had they been holding that for just such an occasion?) and put Russia way back on the 16-17 spread (of course the Jonny Depp libel trial matters more), with Putin, rather than our ineptness, the problem.

Which leaves the two most Brexity papers: the Telegraph and the Express. Both naturally had to clear a lot of space for Prince George. And, for the Telegraph, there was also Mike Pompeo, the EU trade talks, the teachers’ pay rise and covid to accommodate. So the Russia report is squeezed into a filler at the foot of the page, cross referring to a single page of coverage – angled on Putin the villain – on page 4.

It might argue that it had a scoop on the report’s contents yesterday (again, courtesy of whom?) And so it did. A story that covered Arron Banks, oligarchs, money laundering, interference in the Scottish referendum, but not the key finding that we took our eyes off the ball and deliberately failed to look for meddling in the Brexit vote. What’s more, it’s opening sentence was a complete distortion of the committee’s findings.

And, finally, we have the Express. There’s this important report that has taken nine months to surface. And its splash? The prime minister denying something that nobody – not even the most ardent Remainer – had ever suggested.

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I think Mr Cummings will be quite pleased with today’s result.

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