Not Saussure

November 26, 2006

Pollyanna again

Filed under: Blogroll, press — notsaussure @ 2:35 pm

I see Mr Eugenides is as surprised as was I by Andrew Marr’s extraordinary statement of Polly Toynbee that

In a media world in which too many media columnists simply voice their top-of-the-head opinions, Polly always arrives heavily armed with hard facts.

The problem, perhaps, is that journalists don’t usually bother doing any research whatsoever; why should they, when ‘hard facts’ are usually provided for them in convenient bullet-point form by PR departments? Consequently, they tend to be particularly impressed by someone who appears to have had the application actually to go out and dig up a few facts of her own.

It’s not just journalists who sometimes fail to check other’s assertions and use of sources, of course. Obviously Polly’s not in the same league, and nor does she, I’m sure, distort things to the same malevolent intent, but Andrew Marr’s almost touchingly naive faith in the lady as she floats in with her voluminous handbag full of facts reminds me rather of some passages from Professor Richard Evans’ report prepared for the case of David Irving v Penguin & Lipstadt, in particular:

1.5.2 I had leafed through the 1977 edition of Hitler’s War and because of its style and content considered it a work of journalism rather than of professional history. Like the overwhelming majority of professional historians, I rejected its argument that Hitler did not order the extermination of the Jews. However, I was also aware of the widespread assumption amongst professional historians that Irving’s work (like that of a number of other journalists who have written historical work) reached generally acceptable standards of historical scholarship. I also knew of Irving’s reputation as someone who had a good knowledge of the archival and other sources for the history of the ‘Third Reich’ and had discovered previously unknown material on this subject.


1.5.13 Very few historians have actually gone to the trouble of subjecting any of Irving’s work to a detailed analysis by taking his historical statements and claims and tracing them back to the original and other sources on which Irving says they rest. This is because doing so is an extremely time-consuming exercise, and most historians have better things to do with their time than undertaking a minute analysis of other people’s historical writings.

Since Andrew Marr is a busy man with deadlines to meet and papers to edit, he can doubtless be forgiven for not engaging in so time-consuming an exercise as factchecking Polly by himself, but it shouldn’t take him too long to read the work of those who would do it for him. Might cause him to develop a little bit of healthy scepticism, maybe?



  1. Comparing Polly to David Irving is an exquisite barb. God, I hope she reads this.

    Comment by Mr Eugenides — November 26, 2006 @ 5:15 pm

  2. Don’t always have to swear to be quite nasty to people, Mr E. Glad you approve.

    Comment by notsaussure — November 26, 2006 @ 5:42 pm

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