Millions were outraged after The Daily Mirror and The Guardian first broke the story on 22 May. Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules by travelling to Durham. Three weeks later, Cummings remains the PM’s chief adviser. The articles published about him, once in their hundreds, have trailed off into single digits. By no means have the general public forgiven Mr Cummings, so why has the media’s appetite to hold him to account diminished?
The media responds to demand. More than ever during lockdown, their revenue relies on clicks. After the story broke, the public were absorbed by coverage of the scandal, fuelled by anger and betrayal. In just a week, more than one million people signed a petition demanding Cummings be sacked. Fast forward to present day and the public have become fatigued reading about him. They cannot be blamed. To continue to click on an article bearing his name is inevitably to be reminded of the inaction of their government to hold him to account. This brings unnecessary frustration at a time that is already incredibly difficult.
The only way forward was for Cummings to resign
To hold someone to account is to find an apt consequence for their actions. I, like many, did not see any way forward other than for Cummings to resign. He had undermined the government’s strategy, and failing to appropriately condemn his actions would diminish public trust. Even more seriously, it would set a dangerous precedent that the rules in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 could be loosely interpreted.
Intense pressure did not change the Prime Minister’s view
During the press conference on 24 May, the Prime Minister made his stance abundantly clear; his chief adviser had acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”. Cummings was clearly not going to be sacked, in spite of the government losing their poll lead. The pressure of the public and the media clearly had not altered his decision. What else could the media do to hold Cummings to account?
After Dominic Cummings’s nationally broadcast live statement that included questions from journalists, the media could, and did, find flaws in his narrative. The Times wrote that Dominic Cummings was “spotted on riverside path in Barnard Castle”. Channel 4 questioned if Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle was “consistent” with police guidelines. The speculation fell on deaf ears. Johnson refused to talk any further about his chief aide.
Issues with potential for change have received more attention
More recently, issues where there is potential for change have quite rightly filled the news cycle. Consider news coverage providing information on why the statue of Edward Colston was removed by Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol. This press attention has partially contributed to progress in removing other statues of slave traders across the country.
However, perhaps Dominic Cummings has been held to account. He still remains in a position of power, but his reputation has been severely tarnished. The news cycle may have disregarded him for now, but there will likely be intense scrutiny on what he does in future. This will come not just from the media, but also from the public.
Last modified: 18th June 2020