Sunday, March 25, 2012


I don't think Jonathan Freedland will be wanting this piece of his in the Bedside Guardian book-of-the-year. In terms of basic journalistic standards, it may be the worst article to appear in the paper in the last 12 months. Look at this:

His autobiography is similarly unrepentant and notable for its repeated interest in Jews, Israel and Zionism. I'm told that Miliband's office saw an early draft which had plenty more on those subjects, including statements that had them raising their "eyebrows to the heavens" – and which they were mightily relieved to see did not make the final version.

You might expect that somebody who is going to throw around allegations of anti-semitism and demand "repentance" about a book might be able to quote something from this book, in order to support this very grave accusation. Even if the book is so repellent that Freedland can't bring himself to physically touch it - so much so that he doesn't even need to read it to know this - surely there must be an intern knocking around Kings Place who could do the dirty work? But no.

Further, since when has "I'm told" been acceptable sourcing in a serious newspaper? Close reading is valuable in this case. There are many conventional ways of signalling the source of a statement from someone who wishes to remain anonymous. Freedland uses none of them. We do not get as much as "Sources close to..." or "The so-and-so camp...". I regularly bitch and moan and whine about tiresome newspaper code for "Their PR man told me", but it has the virtue of indicating that a source actually exists whose identity the writer is protecting, and whose identity is known to the editor. In this case, our man is not even willing to take that much responsibility, which is quite shameful given the gravity of the matter.

Careful readers will also note that there is no statement or implication in the text that whoever told him is a source in Ed Miliband's office. This is an important lesson in the craft of dishonest writing. Juxtaposition gives the impression of a logical link, but without its semantic substance. You simply place two unrelated statements together and let the reader associate them. It is therefore very useful in later defending your work in front of your editor or a court.

In this case, the substance of the allegation is something that supposedly got edited out of Ken Livingstone's memoirs - that is to say, something which is by nature invisible. Further, disproving that this text (again not quoted) was deleted requires you to prove a negative. Freedland didn't actually ask if Livingstone had stopped beating his wife, but in the light of these standards of intellectual honesty and journalistic practice, why the hell not?

There is more of this stuff. The core of the piece is a meeting Freedland had with Livingstone and a group of other Labour activists. Freedland won't say who they were or what they were up to (of course, in the print edition you can't click through) but does say the following:

One explicitly said he sought no recantation of past remarks nor a change of position on Israel

However, the letter they sent jars with this.

Despite his seeming obsession with Israel, which gives some quarters cause for concern....

Also, perhaps it might have been more honest to mention that the deputation to see Ken included:

key people from Labour Friends of Israel

Further, Freedland harps on the fact that Livingstone had a paying gig with Press TV, which apparently:

put him in the pay of a theocratic dictatorship that denies the Holocaust and believes that both homosexuality and adultery merit stoning.

Unfortunately, this comes literally in the same paragraph as:

He's been in further trouble over his tax arrangements

Which is, of course, an allusion to Andrew Gilligan's discredited story, in which Gilligan made a schoolboy accounting mistake and confused the total of retained profit in a company with its annual trading profits, inflating Livingstone's income by a factor of 7. Oddly enough, Freedland is perfectly happy to quote Gilligan despite the fact that in Freedland's own terms he is:

in the pay of a theocratic dictatorship that denies the Holocaust and believes that both homosexuality and adultery merit stoning

Because, after all, Andrew Gilligan has been working for Press TV for some time. Strangely, his pals on the Policy Exchange/neo-con wing of the Tories find this acceptable, and so does Jonathan Freedland.

Anyway, this ugly little bit of business reminds us of something important. There may be Blairites and Brownites in the Labour Party, but there is also a third pole of Ken-nites, and there is no reason to think either group will be any less vicious towards them than they are to each other.

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