Prime Minister Boris Johnson made headlines yesterday when he appeared to lose track of his notes when delivering a speech to the Confederation of British Industry and go off on a tangent about his recent visit to Peppa Pig World, but does this incident add weight to the theory that the PM uses misdirection to swing the news in his favour?
Johnson is known for his unique style of orating, in which he often drops in bizarre and eccentric references. The media tend to pick up on it, and many of his supporters even enjoy his use of humour and appreciate his less “robotic” style of delivery compared to some of his predecessors.
However, a darker theory has emerged in recent times as to why he occasionally drops in these odd diversions. One argument is that it provides a distraction from more serious and critical news, such as his controversial change to social care funding that MPs narrowly backed last night, but proponents of the theory also point towards the specific subjects he is addressing.
A search for “Britain pigs” on Google News this morning reveals that the press is all over the story, with the left-leaning Independent sneering at the episode somewhat, while the Conservative-supporting Daily Mail lauds the unusual speech.
Now, let’s see what happens if we search for “Britain pigs -peppa”. This brings up stories that mention Britain and pigs, but not the word “Peppa”. In effect, it should bring up what would be dominating the British pig news if Johnson had not talked about his day out.
We can see that this brings up two stories that reflect poorly on the country and its government. The top result is from Pig Progress (yes, there is such a website!) and draws attention to high antibiotic use in UK pig farming, while the third focuses on the UK’s ongoing pig cull due to a reported shortage of skilled butchers and slaughterers.
Whether by accident or design, it’s not the first time the PM has created a silly story that has edged out negative news on a subject. Previous examples include his talk of painting wine boxes to look like model buses and how this caused unfavourable stories about him and buses, models and wine to fall down the rankings. A more low-key incident last year saw him influence the news by performing press-ups mid-interview.
It may be tempting to dismiss the theory as some sort of whacky leftie babble, but consider that reputation management has long been a strategy that involves, among other techniques, using search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies to help positive or neutral stories replace negative coverage of a person or organisation online. Inevitably, figures like world leaders have a unique advantage when it comes to shaping the news.
But what do you think? Is Boris Johnson just an off-the-beat speaker who occasionally fluffs his lines, or is he, as Daddy Pig would say, “a bit of an expert at these things”?