Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned fellow politicians against accusing the media of peddling “fake news” as he launched a passionate defence of the “public service” provided by journalists.
The Tory MP also suggested he would have liked to be a journalist, like his father and former Times editor William Rees-Mogg, but said he realised he “wasn’t good enough” during a “hopeless” stint at the Telegraph.
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Rees-Mogg said he read The Sun before any other newspaper because it “has its finger on the pulse of the British nation in a way that other papers don’t”, but also took in the Mail, Times, Telegraph, and Financial Times.
He singled out Westminster journalists in the lobby, and the Press Association’s Commons press gallery team, who do a job that can at times be worse than “watching paint dry”, for the services they provided.
He also stressed that politics in the UK would be “pointless” and a “dictatorship”, without journalists holding politicians to account, and insisted that reporting was “the most honourable profession to be going into”.
Rees-Mogg told postgraduate journalism students at the Press Association in central London: “They [politicians] shouldn’t say that it’s all made up by the press because it’s very, very rarely made up by the press.
“They have usually been told by somebody, that person may have got it wrong, but you read the newspapers and I’ve got to know how the lobby works in the last few years – the lobby in the House of Commons is fantastically well informed, they know what’s going on, and they print what they have been told reliably and they check it.
“It’s not just they meet one backbench MP who says X, Y and Z, they check it, they confirm it with Downing Street, all these things go on and then it sometimes gets denied – usually it’s the denial that is false, not the story in the first place.”
He went on: “I also have some sympathy with the PA because I don’t know if you know this but the PA always has a journalist in the House of Commons on a rota system.
“That is a real public service, some of the speeches you’ve got to sit through, including some of mine – amazing, you’d be better off watching paint dry – but nonetheless the PA does this and then if somebody says something controversial and newsworthy, you’ve got it.”
Rees-Mogg said he chose the “easier” career of being MP for North East Somerset after a failed attempt at journalism.
“I wasn’t good enough,” he said.
“I did think a bit and I spent a couple of months with the Telegraph where I was actually briefly a diary columnist assisting Quentin Letts.
“I didn’t know a diary story if it bit me in the leg, I was so hopeless, and my father wrote so beautifully and easily and I just was never in that league.
“So, no, I had to do the easier career of politics.”
He added that journalism was “the most interesting thing to do”.
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay