Renewed comment on Guido and his Newsnight débâcle, from James Higham, Devil’s Kitchen, the Reactionary Snob and others, in the context of Oliver Kamm’s using it as a peg on which to hang his complaints about political blogs.
I very much incline to James’ and Longrider’s view on the matter of Guido and the use Kamm makes of him, but I’ll take the opportunity to say that Guido’s problem is that he’s essentially a humbug, and necessarily so. He strikes attitudes of a courageous libertarian publishing the stuff the despised ‘MSM’ is too frightened or too compromised by their closeness to politicians to publish, but his whole raison d’être, it seems to me, is as a conduit between politicians (or their research assistants) and the mainstream media whom he purports to despise.
Where on earth do his readers think most of his stories must come from? The same sources, by and large, as do political Diary Items in the more traditional media — gossip around Westminster bars, of course, and planted stories. Why, one might ask, would anyone want to plant a story with Guido rather than a more established outlet? Because he’ll run it; there’s no competition for space as there is for newspaper diary items, and he’s arranged his affairs so that there’s little point in suing him.
And what is the advantage of having Guido run a story? That, if you’re lucky and it’s a good enough story, it’ll be picked up by the people whose attention you were trying to attract in the first place — the mainstream political reporters, whose attention he, too, is trying to attract. And, which can be a major consideration, using him as receptacle for your leaks helps to disguise the source; back when, in a previous incarnation, I used sometimes to have to get out stories to make life uncomfortable for someone my then boss didn’t like, it was frequently pointless my just phoning one of my semi-tame journalist contacts with a good bit of gossip. That would have been an obvious tip-off that the chap for whom I worked had his knife into his victim and, while that wouldn’t get published directly, it would have been a bit of background that the man who paid my salary wouldn’t necessarily have wanted known, so sometimes I had to be circumspect. I had my methods of laundering and anonymising such motivated tittle-tattle, obviously; had Guido then been around, he’d have provided a very convenient way of doing it, but he’d have been no more than a means to an end, and I can’t imagine he actually sees his blog as anything much other than a conduit for such stories. Some of his more naive readers might, but I’m sure he doesn’t, any more than do the folks at the central offices of the various political parties who so often visit his blog — they want to see what’s in circulation and what isn’t.
This, I think, is one of the reasons Guido was so much on the back foot on Newsnight. Reactionary Snob takes issue with Oliver Kamm’s comment
It was a catastrophic performance, mainly because the blogger required continual correction on points of fact.
Any examples Oliver. It’s probably best to illustrate your assertion above with one, just one, example. Otherwise, it looks to me that you are playing the man and not the ball…. no? And again, if Fawkes is so rubbish at what he does and needs continual correction (the irony of a Guardian writer poking fun at something needing continual correction is quite wonderful) he a) won’t be invited back to Newsnight b) people won’t read his blog. But, of course, they do… in great numbers.
Well, far be it from me to stick up for Oliver Kamm, but Paul Staines’ assertion that he’s exercising great care in what he says in the run-up ‘to Lord Levy’s trial’ had me chuckling. As Michael White pointed out, he must know something the rest of us don’t (he didn’t, of course) and, as a lawyer like Reactionary Snob will realise, if Lord Levy had actually been charged with anything, Mr Staines wouldn’t be able to say anything very much other than report the fact he’d been charged. The alternative interpretation — that there’s stuff Staines might report but won’t because he’s worried about jeopardising any potential trial is just too funny for words, particularly since it was, among others, The BBC and Michael White’s Guardian, not Guido, who were successfully fighting injunctions about reporting this story.
Poor old Staines was just having to make it up as he went along, since he deals in gossip rather than anything he needs to substantiate; if you’ve got a real story, you don’t give it to him unless you were hoping that, by having him fly your kite for you, you can attract the attention of real political journalists who might be able to stand the story up and who’ll have the resources behind them to fight any legal challenges.
What does all this have to do with politics? Well, it rather depends on what you mean by the term; gossip is mostly to do, I think, with trying to affect the mechanisms of politics — trying to boost your chap’s reputation and influence within his own party at the expense of that of his opponents in the same party. What actual difference it makes in the great scheme of things, I do not know. But it’s a completely different business from political blogging either in the sense of analysing political issues and ideas or doing a bit of serious digging and analysis.
As DK says,
Guido peddles rumour and tittle-tattle and does it rather well: if he did not, he would not be the most popular blogger in Britain, would he? But there are many other aspects to political blogging—investigative, analytical, commentative, humourous, satirical—and each has their value to someone (to themselves, if no one else).
It is this variety, and the valuable and painstaking research work work that is undertaken by so many political bloggers, that both Oliver Kamm and the Newsnight team have woefully and wilfully ignored.
Fuck them: it’s their loss. The rest of us will carry on commentating, linking to our sources, researching, analysing, hassling our elected representatives for answers, and attempting to tell the truth (from whatever political perspective that might come).
And, as he suggests in another post on the same topic, we do it — most of us, anyway — because we enjoy it rather than for any other reason. The reason for Paul Staines’ Newsnight downfall was that he took himself, and what he purports to do with his blog, far too seriously.