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Media Quotes of the Year 2020

It was a year dominated by the coronavirus which, while driving huge media audiences, played havoc with advertising and sales revenues as well as jobs. In the US, the president who attacked journalists as “enemies of the people” was dumped by voters, while in the UK, an ex-journalist prime minister was accused of dodging media scrutiny. Here, Jon Slattery chooses his quotes of the year.

By Jon Slattery

Media Quotes of the Year 2020
Top row (l-r): Amal Clooney, Geordie Greig, Samantha Harman, David Hepworth. Bottom row (l-r): Ian Murray, Alan Rusbridger, Margaret Sullivan, Donald Trump.

Coronavirus crisis

Alan Rusbridger on the reporting of the coronavirus, in the preface to the Reuters Institute Annual Report: “Lives depended on the words journalists wrote; the numbers they crunched; how well they understood and could communicate the science… But it has also accelerated the already menacing trends in media – closing titles, depressing revenues, speeding up the switch to digital, throwing thousands out of work.”

Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray on coverage of the pandemic: “It is only the mainstream media that provides edited news and information on this vital subject. This is too important an issue to be left to the vagaries of social media where conjecture, rumour and disinformation run rife.”


Donald Trump to supporters at a campaign rally in Arizona: “You turn on CNN, that’s all they cover. Covid, Covid, pandemic, Covid, Covid, Covid… you know why? They’re trying to talk everybody out of voting. People aren’t buying it, CNN. You dumb bastards.”

Donald Trump on Twitter after the election: “Since when does the Lamestream Media call who our next president will be?”

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan: “The mainstream media, however flawed, has managed to tell us who Trump is. Even the worst of it – the way lie-filled briefings on the coronavirus, in which the president promoted untested cures and pure quackery, were broadcast live to the nation – had the benefit of showing people how unfit he was. And the best of the Trump-era journalism has been crucial, true to its democratic mission of holding the powerful accountable.”

Former British ambassador to the US Kim Darroch in The Sunday Times: “In my time in diplomacy, all the prime ministers for whom I have worked, and all the US presidents I have observed, have had an edgy relationship with the media… No one I ever came across, however, had quite the sense of burning injustice that seemed to live inside Donald Trump.”

Barack Obama in his speech to the Democratic National Convention: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris understand that a free press isn't the ‘enemy’ but the way we hold officials accountable.”

Boris and Cummings

Adam Boulton in the Sunday Times: “Johnson proudly told MPs: ‘I am a journalist’, but his career in print was notable for its partisan brio rather than devotion to facts. As prime minister, he has gone along with avoiding interviews and question-and-answer sessions. He has threatened the BBC and political journalists with radical change. As shown with his Brexit night video, he has expanded the government payroll to include technicians capable of getting his message out on social media without calling in independent MSM professionals.”

Ex-Sun editor David Yelland on Twitter: “Boris Johnson is a second-rater, fired by The Times for making stuff up, never good enough for the Murdoch stable; we are ruled by ‘a tabloid thinker’ who couldn’t get a job at a tabloid. Cummings too. Wannabe populists.”

Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times: “No 10’s attitude to the media was further reinforced on Friday night when [Dominic] Cummings addressed ministerial advisers. ‘He called the media snakes and reptiles,’ one of those listening revealed.”


Daily Mail editor Geordie Greig interviewed in GQ after his paper overtook the Sun to become the top selling UK daily: “My aim is to make the Mail a force for good, a badge of great journalism, crusading, entertaining, informative.”

The Mail on Sunday: “It’s a moment of newspaper – and social – history. Officially audited figures show that in May, The Mail on Sunday surged past The Sun to become Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday newspaper. It’s the first time a mid-market newspaper has been the market leader on a Sunday since Queen Victoria’s reign – a profound cultural shift.”

David Simon interviewed in the Sunday Times: “Wall Street figured out that if you put out shittier newspapers with a small news coverage and less talent, you could make more money than if you put out a quality newspaper with better news coverage and real talent. And they were right. For a short-term window, they were right, and they guided my industry into this shithole on that logic. It was unencumbered capitalism that disengaged journalism from its purpose.”

Alan Hawkes in a letter to The Times: “Sir, There were several articles in Saturday’s comment section (Jun 20) with which I profoundly disagreed. Keep up the good work.”


Claire Beal in her last column after twenty years at Campaign: “Two decades, and what a ride: a vein-pulsing, heart-swelling, frustrating, dirty rush of a ride. A relentless privilege. I’ve loved it. I have hated a few things: the newspaper sales chief who threatened to break my legs, the recruitment company boss who menacingly told me they were going to kill my career (15 years ago), the CEO who tried to bring down Campaign because of something we published on our diary page, the agency chief who broke into my conference hotel room in the middle of the night while I was asleep and tried to get into my bed, countless bullying legal threats when we wrote about things people would rather keep hidden.”

Q founder David Hepworth in the New Statesman on the closure of the music mag: “Music journalism was a product of the age of print and paper; put it on a screen and it no longer crackles. To the editorial team I would say this: it’s not your ‘fault’. You're not a genius when the market’s running for you and you’re not a failure when it's going the other way. To the music business I would say, you’re going to miss the music press. Why? Because it did one thing you failed to value. Through its lens, it made your acts seem exciting and larger than life, even when they weren’t.”

Ian Hislop in The Times: “When I became editor of Private Eye at 25, lots of middle-aged men were furious. Now I’m a ghastly middle-aged man myself and I think, ‘They were right. How annoying’.”


New BBC director-general Tim Davie: “If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.”

Boris Johnson after being asked by MP Andrew Lewer if the BBC licence fee was sustainable in a multi-media era: “He makes an interesting point of view shared I'm sure by many people in this country. But my Right Honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be setting out a roadmap shortly for reform of the BBC and addressing the very issue that he mentions.”

Media Freedom

b “I have always been proud of the UK’s reputation as a champion of the international legal order, and of the culture of fair play for which it is known. However, very sadly, it has now become untenable for me, as Special Envoy, to urge other states to respect and enforce international obligations while the UK declares that it does not intend to do so itself.”


An open letter to the Society of Editors from 50 BAME journalists: “We request you to consider positive recruitment campaigns from ethnic communities across Britain with a declared commitment; properly paid traineeships for BAME youngsters with adequate mentoring and equal promotion and pay for BAME staff already in newsrooms. A good start would be regular reviews of diversity in newsrooms and for an initial assessment and publication of current BAME representations in news organisations. We call upon the Society of Editors to urge its members to use this period of reflection to re-evaluate and reform past practices and move forward with a totally skilled workforce with appropriate BAME representation. Let’s all get the whole story.”


Newsquest Oxfordshire editor Samantha Harman on online abuse suffered by journalists: “We’ve seen a toxic rhetoric emerge over the last couple of years that all journalists are ‘scum’ and that it’s acceptable to hide behind the internet to say whatever you want to them. It reached a boiling point this year during coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement, with reporters having to deal with abhorrent, disgusting and racist comments on stories.”

Harry and Meghan

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in a letter to the editors of the Sun, Mail, Mirror and Express saying they will not co-operate with their papers: “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are looking forward to working with journalists and media organisations all over the world, engaging with grassroots media, regional and local media, and young, up-and-coming journalists, to spotlight issues and causes that so desperately need acknowledging. And they look forward to doing whatever they can to help further opportunities for more diverse and underrepresented voices, who are needed now more than ever. What they won't do is offer themselves up as currency for an economy of click bait and distortion.”


Alan Rusbridger on former Sunday Times and The Times editor Sir Harold Evans, who died in September, aged 92: “Harry Evans was the master craftsman of journalism. But he was so much more. He reminded us why journalism mattered and of the good that it could, and should, do. He was the editor we all wanted to be – brave, enlightened and tough. RIP.”

From The Times obit on former Sunday Telegraph editor Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, who died in October, aged 96: “As a commentator, he could be salty, moralistic, reactionary, contrary and even, on occasion, self-contradictory, but he was rarely, if ever, boring or predictable. On Desert Island Discs in 1992, he chose as his luxury item a lifetime supply of LSD.”

From The Times obit on theatre director Terry Hands: “He could rarely resist a jibe at the media. ‘Why did you choose journalism?’ he asked one interviewer. ‘You were obviously a nice person once’.”