‘DON’T shoot the messenger” was Laura Kuenssberg’s plea to those following her on Twitter. The BBC’s political editor says there’s nothing big or clever about such behaviour, however “fashionable” it may be, so that’s us telt.

However, she doesn’t make any reference to having a stern word with the messenger, which is what many of us would like to do now that an election campaign full of false messages (also known as lies) has finally come to an end. The BBC is surely both big enough and clever enough to listen and engage in constructive discussion about how it can do better going forward.

Everyone makes mistakes, and I’m sure most of us have spread a rumour first and asked questions later at least once or twice in our lives. But most of us do not have 1.1 million followers on Twitter, most of us aren’t on the speed-dial of Tory party mischief-makers, and most of us do not work for a public service broadcaster that trumpets as the first of its core values “we’re truthful and fair in all our dealings” and “we behave with integrity”.

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Was it fair of Kuenssberg to breathlessly tweet that a Labour activist had punched an advisor to Health Secretary Matt Hancock when things “turned nasty” at a protest outside a hospital, despite no reliable evidence that this had actually happened?

Was she really confident this claim was truthful despite her sources being Tory aides who – I don’t know – might have had an agenda to push, two days before an election and mere hours after the Prime Minister had sparked outrage by refusing to look at a picture of a boy lying on a hospital floor?

It feels wrong to talk of dead cats in the same breath as sick children, but God knows the Tory Party schemers were probably bearing that fact in mind when they cooked up this glaringly obvious piece of political pantomime.

For the uninitiated, here comes an explanation of the “dead cat” manoeuvre perfected by political strategist Lynton Crosby. Who better to talk us through it than Boris Johnson, who employed the Australian as campaign manager when running for Mayor of London?

“There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant,” he once said. “The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

READ MORE: Laura Kuenssberg faces criticism over Tory 'punch' claim

And of course, it works – I didn’t start this column by talking about the outrageous moment when the Prime Minister snatched a journalist’s phone and put it in his pocket rather than look at a picture of ailing four-year-old Jack Williment-Barr lying on a pile of coats. I haven’t yet mentioned the Prime Minister apparently hiding in a fridge to avoid a TV interview. I haven’t even touched on the utterly grim reality the UK is facing if we’ve woken up today to news of a Conservative majority. No, I’m still distracted by the cat – a cat that didn’t even exist except in the minds of manipulators and the breathless tweets of broadcasters.

The Tories telling a bare-faced lie is no longer news, just as Boris Johnson running scared from scrutiny is now par for the course. But what we saw this week was key figures in political reporting uncritically dancing to the Tories’ tune, at the very moment they should have been taking care to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Kuenssberg wasn’t the only journalist to fall for it hook, line and sinker. ITV’s Robert Peston repeated the same claim about a punched advisor to one million followers without pausing to check if there was, for example, video footage of the incident.

READ MORE: Laura Kuenssberg could not be more wrong about National #indyref2020 rally

Of course, this being 2019, such footage did quickly emerge, and it became crystal clear that no-one had been punched at all. A gesticulating hand connected with a face only because Matt Hancock’s adviser walked right into it from behind, perhaps even deliberately.

Peston, to his credit, immediately acknowledged his error, dobbed in the sources who had told him the lie (“senior Tories”) and apologised. Kuenssberg, by contrast, seemed determined to avoid admitting she’d been played, sharing the video with the words “doesn’t look like punch thrown” but still seeing fit to describe it as a “pretty grim encounter”. It took her another hour to apologise for her role in spreading the misinformation.

This simply isn’t good enough. Why are basic journalistic standards allowed to go out of the window when it comes to reporting via Twitter? Is chasing “likes” and retweets considered more important than interrogating claims?

Of course, by Wednesday we had another feline to mourn (and “punchgate” was conveniently pushed down the search engine results) after Kuenssberg repeated some questionable comments about postal votes. And so it continues ...