Ten years ago, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph, John Humphrys made a BBC Two documentary about the welfare state. Growing up in Cardiff, he said, “hardly anyone was on benefits”, yet now vast numbers were. “Why?” It was a good question, but as Humphrys found out, it was also a “suicidally dangerous one for any BBC journalist to ask”. He was hauled in front of a committee, accused of pro-Tory bias, and told off for breaching guidelines on impartiality and accuracy. What he had run up against was one of the more “chilling” trends of our time: “political correction”. If you engage frankly with certain topics – climate change, immigration, transgenderism – you will be handed “the equivalent of a lawsuit”.
The self-appointed fact-checkers responsible believe themselves to be battling “fake news”. But their method has become a “new form of bias”. When David Attenborough’s Wild Isles documentary claimed “60% of our flying insects have vanished”, for example, nobody bothered to check if it was true. The figure, it turned out, came from an amateur study asking drivers to count bug splats on their number plates. It was the same with Thomas Piketty’s much-swooned-over formula “r>g”, which claims that inequality will always grow because returns on investment outstrip economic growth. Piketty was proclaimed a genius, and campaigners worldwide demanded new taxes on the rich. When an IMF economist later showed that his formula was “nonsense”, it was barely reported. The Swedes call the narrow band of acceptable beliefs the “opinion corridor” – and it’s becoming “narrower than ever”.