The National:

This week’s Behind the Headlines comes from content editor Xander Elliards. To receive the Behind the Headlines newsletter direct to your inbox every week for free, click here.

THE UK Covid Inquiry has been hearing evidence in Scotland this week, and it has provided some key lessons on the media and misinformation.

The first came in the shape of a document listing the minutes of a Scottish Cabinet meeting held on June 30, 2020.

The minutes stated that ministers had “agreed that consideration should be given to restarting work on independence and a referendum, with the arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis and developments on EU Exit”.

Those words are crucial. Work on independence had not been restarted. Consideration hadn’t even yet been given to the idea. The minutes instead state only that ministers had said they would think about thinking about it.

The reality bears little resemblance to the media coverage.

READ MORE: 'Disgusting': Five times the Tory government used Covid to promote Unionism

“The league of shame: All those present when SNP restarted Scexit push at height of Covid,” one headline roared, apparently ignoring the fact that June 30, 2020 was very much not the height of Covid.

In fact, just one day prior on June 29, 2020, the British Medical Journal reported that Scotland had gone four days without a coronavirus death under the headline: “Covid-19: Scotland ‘on track’ to eliminate virus.”

Regardless, other outlets covered the Cabinet minutes story in much the same way, headlining breathless Conservative quotes about the revelation being “shameful” and “disgusting”.

None of the headlines connect to what the minutes actually said, and not one of the stories engaged with what the Tory government in London was doing that same day: using Covid to argue for the Union.

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson will start giving his evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry on Wednesday (Tolga Akmen/PA)

In a sheer coincidence, June 30, 2020 saw Boris Johnson (above) give a lengthy speech where he praised “the most extraordinary features of the UK – in so many ways the greatest place on earth”.

He argued for the “absolutely vital role” of the Union and said Covid had underlined its importance.

Considering the Conservatives accused the SNP of “crass constitutional opportunism” for even thinking about what Johnson was already doing, that is vital context which was simply missing from the media coverage. Except in The National.

Perhaps the saga gives a hint at what Nicola Sturgeon meant when she warned top adviser Devi Sridhar that the media will “twist” words “deliberately” – another revelation from the Covid Inquiry.

But while the inquiry has let us see into the private messages of some top Scottish politicians, it has also given us a lesson in misinformation.

After news broke on Thursday that Sturgeon had called Johnson a “f***ing clown” in WhatsApps to her former chief of staff Liz Lloyd, a satirical account on social media claimed she had gone further.

Leaning on quotes from The Thick of It, the account falsely reported that Sturgeon had called Liz Truss as “much use as a marzipan dildo” and Matt Hancock “weaker than a nun’s piss”.

The report came from an account dressed up to look like it provided political reporting, but in actual fact was “satire”.

Regardless, the post flew and flew, taking in countless people who did not check the source of the information. It is still live and has been viewed almost 12 million times on Twitter/X alone.

With a General Election coming up in 2024, lessons of misinformation, spin, and checking for reliable sources could hardly be more pertinent.

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