A government minister is facing criticism after publicly accusing a journalist of “making up claims” and creating disinformation for asking questions about a video campaign promoting the coronavirus vaccine programme.
In a Twitter thread, Kemi Badenoch accused the journalist from HuffPost of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour, and published screenshots of questions sent to her MP’s office and to a ministerial press office, naming the reporter.
In the wake of the tweets, the journalist concerned, Nadine White, had been forced to make her own Twitter account private as she was receiving so much abuse, HuffPost said.
Badenoch, who serves both as exchequer secretary to the Treasury and as an equalities minister, said White was undermining trust in the vaccine programme by asking why the minister did not appear in a video promoting vaccine take-up in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
“Chasing clicks like this is irresponsible,” she wrote, tweeting screenshots of emails White sent to press officers.
Badenoch said: “Today, an unfortunate reminder of why there is so much confusion and mistrust. Was in meetings all day yesterday and been made aware of 2 emails received from HuffPost journalist, Nadine White …
“Disinformation is on the rise, yet HuffPost are looking to sow distrust by making up claims I refused to take part in a video campaign … (which I suggested and promoted!) Even when Labour and Tory MPs work together, some in the media will still look for conflict.
“And the main reason I didn’t appear in the video? Because I’m taking part in and promoting vaccine trials.
“Given the worst disinformation is that the virus is being ‘tested first’ on black people, I thought it better to avoid mixed messages about volunteering to be tested.”
Badenoch said the HuffPost had focused on the impact of Covid on BAME people, “yet are quite happy to undermine our efforts to build trust in the vaccine by making absurd claims”. It was, she added, “creepy and bizarre to fixate on who didn’t participate in a video and demand they explain themselves”.
Replying to Badenoch’s tweets, the HuffPost editor-in-chief, Jess Brammar, said it was “correct and standard practice for journalists to check facts and approach people in public office for comment”, and that the website had not published the story without the response.
Brammar added: “Young, female, black journalists receive some of the worst abuse on Twitter, and to behave in this way is extremely disappointing – even before you consider that the person involved is the minister for equalities.”
It is understood that the website is making a complaint to the Cabinet Office over the matter.
The Labour MP Dawn Butler wrote in a tweet to Badenoch that the minister’s actions had left White “subjected to vile abuse”. Butler said: “You have set some nasty people on to a young journalist who is currently grieving a family member. MPs need to be understanding of the impact they have.”
Last June, Badenoch criticised the BBC’s community affairs correspondent, Rianna Croxford, after she reported that a black doctor had been sidelined from leading the PHE review into coronavirus risk factors. The BBC stood by the story.
On Friday Croxford tweeted her support for White, calling her “a brilliant journalist who is getting trolled and piled on today simply for doing her job”.
The author and journalist Afua Hirsch accused Badenoch of “trolling two of our black journalists for doing their job of holding you to account”.
Badenoch previously appeared to claim in a Spectator interview that Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, “actually wants a segregated society”.
The Equalities Office later sent out a statement that did not address questions about Badenoch’s tweets and the criticism of them. A spokesman said: “[Badenoch] believes that to instil confidence in the vaccine it is vital to remain unified, and not undermine the message of promoting take-up amongst minority communities.
“We want every eligible person to benefit from the offer of a free vaccine, no matter their ethnicity or religious beliefs.”