The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Gilligan as ideologue: where's the evidence?

It seems that a good number of the blogospherical section of the War Party [1] are currently creaming their jeans over the Hutton Report - or what they've read about what it might do to the hated BBC.

Joining in the immoderate glee is blogosphere journalism guru (and a newspaper journalist by training) Jeff Jarvis, who has a cornucopia of pieces on the Report, the earliest of which is this one [2].

For those for whom the 330 pages of the actual report are a little too much, he offers the offers the following pithy summary of the conclusions:
Tony Blair was right, the BBC was wrong.

Head up its arse.

He has judged the tone of the thing perfectly:
just heard Tony Blair's speech to Parliament on the Hutton report. Brilliant: to the point, direct, demanding. He calls on those who lied about him to recant. We're waiting.

Recant so very much the word. The Inquisition would scarcely have required a rack to persuade the heretics had it been able to call on the services of the good Lord H.

The lather is foaming nicely:
This is not a good day for big, old, traditional news media. It is, however, a good day for the truth.

The BBC accused the Blair government of lying about war when, in fact, the BBC lied about Blair. Now Lord Hutton has handed the Beeb its privates on a platter and we wait to see whether the blind, pompous, and self-righteous heads of BBC News -- Gavyn Davies, Greg Dyke, and Richard Sambrook -- plus the alleged reporter who started all this, Andrew Gilligan, first repudiate the lies, second apologize for lying, and third quit in shame.

Readers may recall, in the Mr Smith Goes To Washington, the scene at the Press Club when the assembled hacks give the hapless Jefferson Smith a sort of tag-team lecture on Truth and the essential decency of journalism. Smith does not realise that they are all whores and hypocrites, as demonstrated by subsequent events in the movie; his excuse is that he's a cartoon character: real-life grown-ups know, or should do, that there is no such thing as the truth. And to distrust the motives of those who suggest that there is.

The most loathed of the BBC crew is Gilligan; Samaritans, take note:
the British journalists' union does even worse. They should be chasing him out as the shame of the business but instead:
However, the National Union of Journalists, which represented Gilligan, today hit out at the report's conclusions.

"Whatever Lord Hutton may think, it is clear from the evidence he heard that the dossier was 'sexed up', that many in the intelligence services were unhappy about it, and that Andrew Gilligan's story was substantially correct," said Jeremy Dear, the president of the NUJ, which is representing Gilligan.

Who is, it seems, so vile as not even to deserve representation [3].

Keen observers will have noted (they can obviously verify the original) that Jarvis is taking the Hutton conclusions as gospel. As a slice of that truth he mentions. And, when he finds that there are one or two others who are just a tad sceptical about Hutton's findings:
There's pathetic denial going on in certain circles over the Hutton verdict. The Independent (surprise!) says, "Hutton is accused of a 'whitewash.'" Tee-hee.

Such lack of faith is ridiculous, clearly.

And then, finally, an appearance of balance:
Blair was merely a psychotic liar

If you haven't guessed, he's talking here about Jayson Blair. And Jarvis judges that, in a Jayson Blair head-to-head with Gilligan on journalistic standards,
Gilligan is worse because he does try to act like a real journalist, even as he single-handedly devalues the credibility of the craft.

Gilligan is worse because he operates on an agenda -- anti-war, anti-American, anti-Blair.

Gilligan is worse because he has defenders who share his agenda -- BBC executives, numbnutty journalist unions -- and who will fall with Gilligan and risk bringing down the BBC and, again, the credibility of jouranlism with them.

Gilligan is worse because he does not have even the same decency as a psychotic liar; he does not have the decency to save his network and his profession; he does not have the decency to quit now.

Gilligan is a bad reporter. He is poison to journalism. The last act of his bosses should be to sack him before they then quit.

I love that Old Time Religion [4].

I have yet to see a proper analysis of Gilligan's work covering the dozen years or so that I gather he's been a journalist. And I'm thinking that Jarvis hasn't either - given the way Gilligan looms so large as a hate figure for the guy, he'd surely have quoted it if it existed.

But take this piece from the (London) Telegraph - from June 6 2003.

Now, although the Telegraph has traditionally supported the Conservative Party (indeed is known, with more or less irony, as the Torygraph), it was a keen supporter of Tony Blair's policy in Iraq before the war, and of his decision to join the invasion [5].

Moreover, the paper is itself a long-time severe critic of the BBC, going so far as to launch a BBC Bias Watch campaign in September 2003.

Any comfort from the Telegraph for Gilligan is therefore evidence given against interest - the best sort one can have.

The June 6 piece is - unlike the Hutton Report (to pluck an example out of the air) - not a one-sided affair. Gilligan is not an unmitigated blessing to a news organisation, that is clear. But
...despite the frequency with which he has clashed with Labour it is understood that Gilligan has no party affiliations or overt political sympathies...

For all his idiosyncrasies, however, it is hard to fault Gilligan's record. A newspaper executive who worked with him says: "Some people regarded him as a chancer. But he was always scrupulous about accuracy and the use of words."

It also suggests that
...Gilligan has a mild propensity to editorialise

But the piece goes on to point out that
Gilligan now appears to have been vindicated over his WMD story.

One might be tempted to compare the measured approach of this piece with
Tony Blair was right, the BBC was wrong.

Head up its arse.

Finally, one has today's instalment:
BBC honcho Greg Dyke resigns. This is the same sanctimonious prig who lectured U.S. media: "For any news organisation to act as a cheerleader for government is to undermine your credibility. They should be... balancing their coverage, not banging the drum for one side or the other." Mr. Dykes (sic), for any news organization to act as a cheerleader against governent (sic) is to undermind your credibility, wouldn't you say?

Next: Bring us the head of Andrew Gilligan

I'm not sure there weren't one or two Americans who had their doubts about US media coverage of the war [6].

Does he really mean any news organisation? I'm no expert, of course; but I seem to remember that there were one or two US papers that were regularly pretty strident about then President Clinton.

Besides which, he adduces no evidence for his allegation that the BBC is cheerleading against Blair [7]. There is plenty of evidence - furnished to Lord Hutton, and available for all to read on the Inquiry site - that allegations of bias were systematically used by Alastair Campbell and his fellow Blair spinners as a wedge to attempt to secure more favourable BBC coverage for Blair.

All told, it's a striking piece of work. There is, for example, not the slightest hint of the context of the UK media scene. The role Rupert Murdoch (owner of the Sun and Times) plays, as controlling, via News Corp and Sky, a large slice of UK media cash flow [8] - and the extraordinary, mutually beneficial relationship between Murdoch and Blair.

The role of the Sun as Blair cheerleader par excellence has not gone unnoticed this side of the pond. Murdoch even speaks personally for Blair at his hour of need.

Nor the eagerest sign of scepticism towards the process by which Lord Hutton arrived at his conclusions; of comparison of the evidence he took with those conclusions - of the application of any critical faculty whatever.

Now, a skim down the homepage of this blog will reveal that I am no apologist for journalists or journalism. And some of Gilligan's output clearly left a lot to be desired.

A reader of Jarvis' pieces on the Hutton Report may feel invited to make a comparison of the quality of the critical work with that of the work criticised. Unlike the Hutton Report, the evaluation may turn out not to be entirely one-sided.

  1. Which war? Parodists should be seeking out the old Hermione Gingold favourite, Which Witch, I fancy.

  2. I shan't repeat the links he gives. My piece follows his chronologically.

  3. Unlike, say...oops, Godwin's Law alert!

  4. Inherit The Wind reflux.

  5. An editorial on the subject from March 18 2003.

  6. Notably, Christiane Amanpour of CNN, of course, à propos of whom Fox's Irena Briganti memorably said
    Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.

  7. My impression - no more - is that the BBC is far too large and shambolically organised to cheerlead for anything.

  8. Over £3 billion in revenues in 2003 - not far short of total BBC revenues. The health of Murdoch's Sky revenues - in particular, the expansion in its UK media businesses - are dependent on regulations and regulators.

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