MITCH BENN: Like Trump, Johnson is made for the age of conspiracies

PUBLISHED: 15:46 14 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:46 14 November 2019

Boris Johnson with his wreath at the cenotaph. Photo: Getty Images and BBC

Boris Johnson with his wreath at the cenotaph. Photo: Getty Images and BBC

Getty Images and BBC

With Donald Trump and Boris Johnson up for election, MITCH BENN looks at just how untouchable they are

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The word 'mistake' has two principal uses, related but definitely distinct. It can mean an involuntary error, a slip-up, a blooper, a typo... something you didn't want to do or intend to do, but did anyway through inattention, ineptitude or just bad luck. As in: "I left a red pair of pants in the white wash by mistake and now all my shirts are pink."

There's also the other kind of 'mistake': Something you did on purpose before acknowledging that it was a bad idea; perhaps immediately thereafter, or perhaps some time later after having been caught out. As in: "Darling, she meant nothing, it was a mistake." That kind of mistake.

Whoever it was at BBC TV news who made the decision on Monday morning to illustrate coverage of the previous day's Remembrance Sunday ceremony by showing, rather than the dishevelled Boris Johnson who'd shambled prematurely up to the Cenotaph and plonked a wreath down the wrong way up, three-year old images depicting a far better turned-out and better behaved Boris Johnson attending the 2016 ceremony instead, absolutely made a mistake. Indeed, BBC Breakfast's Twitter account acknowledged as much, calling it "a production mistake".

That this seemed to imply a mistake in the "whoops" sense of the word rather than the "damn, we're busted" sense of the word did not convince everyone.

Certainly, I have spent enough time in the BBC to know that nothing ever gets done in the Corporation without someone at least one pay grade higher than whoever's meant to be doing the thing having signed off on it; I've also done enough video editing to know that one does not 'accidentally' bring up a bit of three-year-old footage when compiling shots from the previous day.

The BBC has since provided an explanation: Apparently the 2016 shot had been pulled up from the archive early on Sunday morning to form part of an introductory montage to be shown ahead of the ceremony, and somehow this shot, rather than the shot of scruffy wreath hoop-la Boris, made it into the retrospective montage shown the next morning, and the fact that this mistake lets Johnson off the hook is pure coincidence.

The one exculpatory 'factor' I've seen some people bring up which I'm quite happy to dismiss out of hand is this one: "Of course the BBC didn't do it on purpose, because it was so obvious what they'd done. The lighting was different, Johnson's hair and clothes were different, the wreath was green instead of red... There's no way they were trying to pull a fast one because anyone could tell what they were doing..."

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I'm hearing this argument more and more from defenders of Johnson and especially from defenders of Donald Trump: "He can't be doing a bad thing because he's not trying to hide it! If it were bad, he'd do it in secret, not out in the open!"

Let's get this straight: if someone does a bad thing in plain sight, it doesn't mean it's not really a bad thing or even that they didn't in all faith consider it to be a bad thing... It simply means that they don't care who sees them doing the bad thing because they believe they have no reason to fear the consequences.

Trump has been actively employing this defence in his current impeachment difficulties; responding to accusations that he'd blackmailed Ukraine into investigating the Biden family by saying not only that Ukraine should indeed be investigating the Bidens but that China should as well. Immediately his apologists pointed to this as evidence that the Ukraine shakedown was obviously no big deal, because why would he admit to it otherwise?

Trump is happy to admit to it - indeed boast about it - because he believes that the Democrat-controlled House can impeach away; ultimately it's the Republican-controlled senate who'll convict him or not, and he believes - possibly correctly - that they will not, however high his crimes and/or misdemeanours.

Similarly, we now have our government suppressing a report into the extent of Russian influence on the 2016 referendum and British politics in general. Hillary Clinton, who knows a thing or two about being stitched up by Russians, weighed in on this a few days ago, calling the decision to delay this report "inexplicable, damaging and shaming".

Oh, Madam Should've Been President, it's certainly damaging but it's far from inexplicable and nor is it shaming, since one can't shame those who just don't 'do' shame.

That some are openly questioning whether the BBC has been deliberately doctoring footage to avoid embarrassing the prime minister reminds me of the first year or so of the Trump era, when people were seeking to explain his every outburst and outrage, however grotesque, because the alternative was to admit that someone utterly unfit to hold high office had somehow slipped past all of them to attain that high office.

When people act like they're untouchable it's because they think they are untouchable. But both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump currently face re-election. And ultimately just how "touchable" they are is up to us to decide.

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