In a cunning meta-twist which simultaneously proves and disproves its own claim, the headline above is itself a lie. It’s of course not true that every single headline you read in a newspaper is absolutely false.
It is, however, a pretty good rule of thumb.
That’s because the purpose of headlines is to sell newspapers, and most stories on most days are actually really boring. (“X said Y about Z, blah blah.”)
The only way to achieve the desired aim, then, is to exaggerate, distort, amplify and bend aspects of the story until you arrive at a formulation of words somehow derived from the real facts which will capture people’s attention long enough to extract their money, at which point it doesn’t matter when they find out it’s complete rubbish.
It’s rather like homeopathic “medicine”, where you’re being sold a bottle which actually contains nothing but water, but which was once waved in the general direction of the ingredient it pretends to be an extract from and claims to retain a “memory” of it.
Today’s apocalyptic front-page splash in the Daily Record is similarly derived from contact with a person vaguely related to news, but has nevertheless resulted in a story not containing a single actual molecule of it.
Dr Miles Mack is chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners (Scotland), and is a popular fixture in the press. He was the source of this story the last time the Record ran it, back in April 2015, by the same author (again with a highly-misleading headline which presented a worst-case scenario as the reality).
But we have no great beef with Dr Mack. His job is to fight the corner of his members, and to try to secure for them the biggest possible slice of the Scottish Government’s budget, which continues to fall in the sixth year of Tory austerity. Fair enough.
But he at no point actually suggests “a future without family doctors”. He makes some vague hypothetical criticisms of new models of care provision which are currently being trialled in order to try to cope with a predicted increase in demand at a time when resources are stretched.
And as the article progresses he lets slip a couple of rather interesting facts:
“In reality, the Scottish Government’s own figures show they delivered the equivalent of only 35 extra GPs in the whole five years between 2009 and 2013… In real terms, the increase in funding to general practice amounts to only 1.9 per cent.”
So what the Record chooses to describe as a “GP funding crisis” amounts to an increase in the number of GPs and a real-terms increase in GP funding over the period in question. That’s a funny sort of “crisis” in most people’s eyes.
With its budget being cut by Westminster, the Scottish Government has nevertheless somehow managed to employ more family doctors and provide more funding. (Up from £705m when the SNP took power in 2007 to £853m now. In England, GP funding has been cut by £984m since 2010.)
The NHS – in both Scotland and the UK – faces serious financial challenges in years to come. But the hysterical scaremongering in today’s Daily Record is a spectacular misrepresentation of the truth. As a general rule, readers might find it advisable to always start from the premise that a headline is a lie until proven otherwise.