Daily Mail Partygate front pages show partisan nature of Fleet Street

Analysis: Daily Mail Partygate front pages overwhelmingly supportive of Boris Johnson

Partygate is either a storm in a teacup or an example of outrageous excess and hypocrisy, depending on whether you are looking at the front page of the Daily Mail or Daily Mirror.

As with Brexit, it is a story which has highlighted Fleet Street’s often opiniated take on front-page news.

Press Gazette looked at 1,000 UK national newspaper front pages to understand how coverage of lockdown-breaching gatherings at Downing Street, and Keir Starmer’s curry and beer session with staff, varied by paper.

We found the Daily Mail and Daily Express coverage was overwhelmingly supportive of the Government (as illustrated by their front pages reporting on the Sue Gray report today).

While the Daily Mirror was overwhelmingly negative. The Times and Telegraph appear to have more even-handed.

[see full analysis further down this story]

Sue Gray’s 37-page internal investigation presents details of Partygate scandal, the parties held by Number 10 as the rest of the UK was in lockdown.

While, the report refers to “failures of leadership and judgement in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office” and says that the PM and his officials “must bear responsibility for this culture”, today’s newspaper front pages take very different stances on what this means for the Prime Minister. Below we take a look at today’s front pages and take a data-led look at how the nation’s newspapers have covered the scandal this year.

Leading the ‘can we just forget about the non-story that was Partygate’ and let the Prime Minister move on charge are the Daily Mail and The Express. The Express front-page splashes with the headline “Really…is this what all the fuss is about?” laid over a photo of the Prime Minister holding a sandwich and a drink can.

The Sun urges Boris Johns to put the scandal behind him and focus on addressing the cost of living crisis.

The Guardian, Mirror, The Star, Metro and i meanwhile, take a more critical tone.

The Guardian calls the report “damning” and focuses on the details of the party revealed by the report. The paper headlines on the drinking, fighting and vomiting uncovered through Gray’s investigation as does tabloid The Daily Star -albeit in a more colourful way.

The Mirror focuses on the government’s betrayal of a nation in mourning (one of the parties took place on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral) and the poor treatment of security staff and cleaners by partygoers outlined in the report.

The Times and The Telegraph both carry the story on their front pages with more neutral coverage of which takes second place to reports on the cost of living crisis.  The Financial Times takes a measured tone, concluding that the Prime Minister has emerged “damaged but unbowed”.

Today’s coverage largely reflects the stance taken by the UK’s leading newspapers on the scandal throughout 2022, according to our analysis.

To reach our conclusion, Press Gazette looked at the front pages of eight UK national newspaper published since 14 January for stories on Partygate or Beergate and took a view on whether the tone of the story was largely positive, neutral or critical for the government. In cases, where the story was about a conflict within the government, we judged the story on its sentiment about the Prime Minister.

Press Gazette looked at the following newspaper titles (including sister Sunday titles where applicable): The Express, Mail, Telegraph, Sun, Times, Star, Guardian and Mirror.

Of over 1,000 front pages we looked at, we found that 20% contained stories about either Partygate or Beergate. While most of the papers we looked at covered Partygate on their front pages, there was far less coverage of Beergate – Labour leader, Keir Starmer’s alleged lockdown rule-breaking, which is currently under police investigation.

While the amount of front-page coverage was significant, both scandals dropped off the front pages for much of March due to heavy coverage of the Ukraine war. Some papers have also frequently splashed on coverage of the cost of living crisis instead.

Leading the coverage of the government’s rule-breaking was The Daily Telegraph which carried 45 stories about Partygate and (to a much smaller extent) Beergate. It was followed by The Guardian (39 stories) and The Times (32 stories).

Across the eight titles and their Sunday editions we found that most stories (41%) used a largely negative tone about the Prime Minister or government, 33% were neutral and 26% were more positive.

There was however, a clear split between the titles.

Over 90% of the Daily Mail's front-page coverage on the scandal was positive towards the government with many stories seeking to downplay the importance of the leadership’s Covid lockdown rule-breaking or highlight the alleged hypocrisy of Keir Starmer. One Daily Mail front-page from 13 April carried the headline ‘Don’t They Know There’s a War On?’ as it accused the left of focusing on what it saw as the largely non-story of Partygate at the expense of other issues.

The Sun also carried few stories critical of the government. Its front-page coverage was split between stories we judged to be defending the Prime Minister and stories taking a more neutral stance.

The majority of the Daily Telegraph’s front-page coverage at least, has in our view, taken a more neutral tone with 62% of stories highlighting a balance of facts.

The Times was also more even-handed in its tone. Over two-thirds of stories did not present a story that was strongly positive or negative about the government.

The majority of the Guardian’s front-page stories on Partygate (79%) in contrast have presented the facts of the scandal in a way that has been more critical of the government. Stories for example, prominently highlighted the size of the parties, details of the drinking and disagreement within the Tory ranks.

The Mirror took a largely unequivocally, critical stance of the government’s lockdown parties on its front pages, with cover stories for example, highlighting the extent of the rule-breaking.

The Daily Star, which while only dedicating 15 front-page stories to the scandal, was unabashedly critical of the Prime Minister in all of them.

One front-page splash from January 27 carried the image of a tombstone with the caption “Here lies the Prime Minister’s credibility”.

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Comments

1 thought on “Analysis: Daily Mail Partygate front pages overwhelmingly supportive of Boris Johnson”

  1. The many iterations of Partygate had been running for a full year and a half before Beergate became a thing only really this month, so the 14 Jan to end May framing of this interested me. Beergate was only an active thing for a quarter of the timeframe offered. Don’t get me wrong, I like a stat as much as the next person but at a time when Partygate has run out of steam (reports of late were neutral reports of fines and investigations) and Beergate only featured for a minority of the survey time, I don’t feel this is a “comparing apples with apples” scenario exactly.

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