Thursday, March 31, 2011

Herald error, and Record inventions

I have huge respect for Iain Macwhirter, and there's no doubt this will simply have been an honest error on his part, but how on earth did this sentence in his column make it through the Herald editorial process?

"The paradox is that in the STV/TNS poll Labour are comfortably ahead of the SNP in voting intentions."

Labour were in fact just one point ahead of the SNP in the constituency section of that poll, and the two parties were level on the list. It's debatable whether that should even be described as a lead at all, let alone a 'comfortable' one.

Still, such a factual mistake pales into insignificance when compared to the Record's masterpiece of Pravda-style propaganda that transformed what everyone else and their auntie thought was an underwhelming performance by Iain Gray in the first leaders' debate into glorious Churchillian victory. Now, of course, assessing performance is a very subjective thing, and indeed in other quarters there has been dispute over whether Salmond or Goldie came out on top, so I suppose it's possible that Record journalists could have somehow - just about - come to the honest conclusion that Gray was the winner. But it's hard to maintain an assumption of good faith when you consider just how many factual distortions and improbable interpretations they had to rely on to make the account of the 'Gray triumph' sound even vaguely plausible. For instance -

"SCOTS Labour leader Iain Gray won loud applause during last night's live TV election debate when he tore into the SNP goverment's fateful decision to free the Lockerbie bomber."

He won applause, certainly. "Loud", I'm struggling with, and in any case it was plain for all to see there were Labour activists in the audience (as, admittedly, there were of all parties). But the claim goes further still -

"But Gray instantly hit back - winning the biggest round of applause of the night."

It wasn't the biggest round of applause of the night. I've only watched the programme once, but from memory Alex Salmond's spirited defence of the principle of free education received the most widespread clapping. At an absolute minimum it matched the applause Gray received for his downright dishonest claim that he would have broken the habit of a lifetime and ignored the clear wishes of his London Labour overlords by keeping Megrahi in prison.

"Gray reminded the audience he had beaten Salmond three-nil in by-elections since taking over the Labour helm two years ago."

First of all, and again I've only seen the show once so I stand to be corrected, but he didn't actually say that, did he? He made some reference to good election results, but I don't recall him actually trotting out John Park's nonsensical 'three-nil' claim. He may well have planned to, though, in which case a cynic might suspect the Record had seen an advance copy of Gray's 'script'. That would explain a lot, right enough - perhaps the script also included other little details that didn't make the final show such as "(receives thunderous applause)".

Oh, and the 'three-nil' now refers to by-elections, does it? Funny that there's only actually been two Scottish by-elections since Gray became leader. Perhaps they've taken a relaxed, George Bush-style approach to geography and decided that Barnsley is more or less in Scotland?

Now, compare and contrast these two claims -

"Gray - who put in a calm and confident performance..."

"Jabbing his finger, Gray said..."

So which was it - a 'calm' performance or a 'finger-jabbing' performance? Anyone who watched the UK leaders' debates last year will know there wasn't any finger-jabbing in sight during those, and there wasn't much of it in evidence from the other three leaders on Tuesday night. Hardly an obvious marker of 'calmness'.

Last but not least, we have this intriguing summary of Alex Salmond's confidence levels -

"High, as usual. Grinned even when teenager dismissed time in power as "not fantastic"."

Now, you see, that'll be because the teenager in question was not "dismissing" the SNP's tenure, but praising the party as having done a "pretty good job". The journalist who wrote that sentence knows that, and so will the countless Record readers who actually saw the debate. The lie was, of course, for the benefit of readers who hadn't tuned in.

Shameless. Utterly shameless.


  1. And how's this for a "typo" in today's Scotsman:

    "Yesterday an exclusive poll for The Scotsman suggested that Labour has overtaken the SNP in the Scottish election constituency vote for the first time since last year's general election."

    Never mind. They'll be bust by this time next year.

  2. And I see the mistake is still there, several hours on!

  3. Bring back the late Hughie Green's clapometer for use by the Daily Retard.

  4. I stopped admiring Iain MacWhirter as a political columnist about six years ago and the final straw was his obsequious endorsement of Gordon Brown when he took over the leadership of the Labour party. Gordon was a man he described as smart and capable and who was going to take the Labour party back to its roots and to more victories. I lost faith in Iain MacWhirter's abilities as a political journalist because after a while I realised that I gained no insights from reading his articles and in fact he was simply wrong in a lot of them.

    Iain's latest article hasn't changed my mind about his lack of ability as a political journalist at all. On the one hand Iain MacWhirter acknowledges that after four years of media exposure as First Minister Alex Salmond is now streets ahead in the popularity ratings when compared to the Labour, Lib-Dem and Tory front-men and women in Scotland but on the other hand Iain MacWhirter thinks that the SNP should keep Alex hidden in case of he comes over as arrogant or bumptious. The two parts simply don't make sense. If media exposure has made Alex popular why stop now? For a political columnist MacWhirter is unable to think with any clarity.

    He also manages to get the words and phrases, "complacency", "arrogance", "bumptiousness", "smart Alex", and best of all his Kosovo reference of, "unpardonable folly", into the piece when referring to Alex. Whenever someone makes that,"unpardonable folly", remark about Alex Salmond and Kosovo I know instinctively that they're not writing from knowledge but just banging out some boiler-plate built on received wisdom. Boilerplate is all right for some lowly blogger but if you're making your living on what you write a little fact checking would be in order.

    Alex Salmond got it right with Kosovo. The only control on the Serbian Army in Kosovo at that time was the presence of OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Civilian Monitors. These were withdrawn on the 20th of March 1999 before the bombing campaign started on the 24th. However it was not till the 28th that the bombing was switched from Serbia proper to military targets inside Kosovo, principally because the Americans belatedly realised that they had now unleashed full scale ethnic cleansing in the province. Before this there were refugees from the fighting between the KLA and the Serbian Army but there was no ethnic cleansing, despite the subsequent media hype. It was the bombing campaign and the withdrawal of the OSCE monitors that let the Serbian Army off the leash.
    An interesting side note is that only the year before the US special envoy for Kosovo, Robert Gelbard said, "The UCK (KLA) is, without any questions, a terrorist group," giving Serbia the green light to crack down on the KLA and ramp up the violence within Kosovo despite the fact that the CIA was arming and training the KLA in Albania.

    The end result of the bombing campaign was to create a province which is now ruled by criminal gangs dealing in drugs and women across Europe and where the KFOR force is used to protect ghettos of the remaining Serbs. The US got its Camp Bondsteel in the Balkans though. The plans had been drawn up before the bombing started according to Colonel Robert L. McClure, writing in the engineers professional Bulletin, "Engineer planning for operations in Kosovo began months before the first bomb was dropped. At the outset, planners wanted to use the lessons learned in Bosnia and convinced decision makers to reach base-camp 'end state' as quickly as possible." Make of that what you will.

  5. I agree Alex Salmond made the right call on Kosovo, Doug. As for Iain Macwhirter, at least he's not one of the usual suspects who attack the SNP as a matter of reflex.