Posted by Curt on 27 June, 2016 at 3:46 pm. 9 comments already!


Charles C.W. Cooke:

Minutes separated the news from the narrative. On Friday morning, at just a hair past midnight, it was reported that the British people had voted to leave the European Union. Less than half an hour later, they were being told by the press that they regretted it. And nowhere was the wish-casting or the condemnation more vocal than within the United States press corps.

That the American media establishment considered the Brexit plebiscite to have gone the wrong way was obvious to anybody with an active Twitter account and a working pair of eyes. In and of itself, this was not the end of the world; to work for a newspaper is not to abandon all of one’s private views, and for many Twitter has become a place where the tightly bound can opine without redress. And yet, once back within their professional capacities, one expects better of the ostensibly neutral. That so many of those who have been tasked with informing the public chose instead to embark upon a hard-fought campaign against the truth should worry anybody who is concerned with the health of the Fourth Estate.

Perhaps the most galling part of the press’s disgraceful reaction has been the almost total lack of skepticism on display. It was bad enough that almost everybody within the American media seems to have looked at the opinion polls – which on the final day showed the vote to be pretty evenly matched – and to have concluded nevertheless that Remain was certain to prevail. But for this myopia to have marked the aftermath as well is nothing short of astonishing. Over the last four days, pretty much every half-assed story going has been given glaring front-page treatment – providing, that is, it serves to soothe the chatterers’ frazzled nerves. Thus it was that the loss was blamed on a supposed obsession with immigration; that a soaring “Bregret” narrative emerged; and that a hoax petition was given a prominence within the reporting that it in no way deserved even had it not been a prank. The response, in short, has been extraordinary.

It has proven difficult to count the number of ways in which the press has blown this story, so I will focus on just two of the many crucial errors that have caught my attention.

The first is the press’s peculiar belief that the “Leave” side won because its voters are stupid and impetuous, and because they don’t know what’s good for themselves – an attitude that has been well illustrated by the insistence that British voters took “frantically” to googling “what is the EU?” once the results had become clear. From the start, the implication of the coverage has been that, devastated by the news that they had actually prevailed, the moronic advocates of Brexit elected finally to do some reading.

In truth, this whole line is nonsense. As 538’s Ben Casselman has pointed out, people also googled “who is Mitt Romney” after he lost to Barack Obama in 2012. Should that be taken as a sign of regret? Hardly, no. Not only do we not know who is doing the googling (it could be Remain voters, it could be Leave voters, it could be non-voters; nobody knows), but, as Gedalyah Reback of Geektime notes, this is what voters do in the wake of momentous political events. Moreover, it turns out that the supposed “frantic” “spike” in interest was caused by just 1,000 people. Even if we presume – against demographic trends – that every single person who took to Google was a Leave voter who was downing gin-and-tonics and flagellating himself for his stupidity, the data here would indicate no more than that a whopping 0.00005 percent of those who had voted were having second thoughts.

Equally unfounded is the talk of a three-and-a-bit-million-strong petition, which, if accepted by the British government, would invalidate the first referendum and yield a second that requires a supermajority. Again, the implication here is that, having got what they wanted, Leave voters are panicking. Again, the story is built on sand. As Heat Street reports, the petition represents not the hearty cry of the devastated masses, but a rather devilish 4Chan-initated prank. Per those who have looked into the effort, the vast majority of the “signatures” (a) originated from IP addresses outside the U.K., and (b) were left not by real people, but were automatically generated by a simple hacker’s script. Oops! (For what it’s worth, even if the petition were authentic, it wouldn’t matter one whit. Sixteen million people opposed Britain’s leaving; would it really be newsworthy if a fraction of that group called for a second chance?)

That neither of these stories is supported by the available evidence should not come as a surprise, for the broader case that Leave voters are suffering from “buyers’ remorse” is in fact embarrassingly weak. A poll conducted by ComRes the day after the referendum showed that 48 percent of Brits were “Happy” with the result, that 43 percent were “Unhappy,” and that seven percent were “indifferent.” Moreover, ComRes found that four times more Remain voters said that they were “happy” with the result than Leave voters said they were “unhappy.” “Bregret”? Brenonsense.

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