Morning news shows are a staple of British culture – a trusted friend at the other side of a TV screen.
We all have our favourite shows, and we rarely deviate from them. We see the presenters go through milestones in their lives, laugh with them when they fall into the Thames and even share their trauma.
They call themselves a family and welcome us into it, but make no mistake, they are news outlets all the same and as such, are subject to upholding standards against misinformation.
As Plato once said, “opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance”, but what happens when your opinion is factually incorrect, when it can cause harm to others and feeds into the stigma people with hidden disabilities and illnesses have been fighting against for years, and you happen to have a massive platform to share it?
Beloved show ‘This Morning’ found themselves in hot bother on Monday after the show’s agony aunt Vanessa Feltz responded to a viewer calling in with a complaint that she was ‘being forced to have a gluten-free Christmas’ by her mother-in-law who wants to cater to one guest.
Vanessa pushed back on suggesting the ‘gluten free’ person in question brought their own food, however it then transpired the person actually had Coeliac disease.
At this point, Vanessa should have taken a step back, suggested they seek medical guidance on the needs and safety aspect of cooking for people with Coeliac disease and to take a decision accordingly.
Instead, she proceeded to belittle the condition relegating it below an allergy, commenting: “She’s treating coeliac disease as if it’s a kind of fatal, potentially fatal peanut allergy and that they can’t have anything with gluten in the house, which is completely unreasonable.”
Her co-host Josie Gibson then jumped in, probably after an in-ear lawsuit avoiding directive from the producers, to point out that people with coeliac disease need to be wary of cross-contamination of gluten. But Vanessa pushed back on this again.
To say this whole interaction ruffled a few feathers would be an understatement, Vanessa’s comments became one of 2023’s most complained about moments, with Ofcom stating they had received 1,092 complaints! A leading charity for coeliac disease also publicly requested a formal apology from Vanessa herself.
So, what did they do to try clean up this mess? They ordered straight from the crisis comms menu of:
- Host a segment bringing awareness to the cause you’ve wronged (bonus points for involving a doctor!)
- Grant a platform to people who have lived with the disease
- Engage the very charities who called you out in the first place
- Have the defendant sit there looking solemn whilst people apologise on your behalf
- Pledge to do more in the future
But what was missing from this 5-course delight? An actual genuine apology from Vanessa herself.
Driving traffic to her solo show on TalkTV she described the whole ordeal as a social media storm explaining: “I said what I said there, but then I added that you should go in the spirit of Christmas and enjoy a gluten free meal anyway. I did not suggest that they put the coeliac in harm’s way nor did I intend to show in any shape of form any disrespect to any one with coeliac disease.”
She continued: “I am astounded by the reaction and horrified that anyone is upset. I don’t think that I said anything wrong but if anyone is upset then I am very sorry.”
I don’t think I said anything wrong but if anyone is upset then I am very sorry.
With a line straight out of nearly every person’s ex partner’s playbook she undid all of the crisis management that This Morning had accomplished and the awareness they’ve brought to the disease. It’s very hard for an apology to be accepted if you undermine it in your first breath.
Make no mistake, morning news shows are much like a slow loris – cute and cuddly on the outside, but filled with fatal venom they can expel at any moment, with the drug of choice being misinformation in this case.
With increased legislation and regulation of the press we have become a largely trusting nation. We trust the policy makers and enforces, to sniff out the truth for us, so until we’re told otherwise, we nod along.
So, what will this hold for Vanessa and This Morning?
The timings of this are very lucky, with the Christmas break on the horizon leaving skeleton news staff and an otherwise engaged audience which may let this slip away into the things we leave behind in 2023.
But the morning new show court of public opinion is brutal, as many presenters have seen over the time.
Vanessa stirred the pot, but we’re still ‘kneading’ an apology.