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Ashcroft and Oakeshott: giving tittle-tattle a cloak of respectability

September 22, 2015

It is a story that will run. Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott knew that when they decided to include the uncorroborated allegation about David Cameron, a pig and strange initiation rites in their biography of the Prime Minister. It shocked me.

Channel 4 News: Oakeshott on the spot

Channel 4 News: Oakeshott on the spot

It wasn’t the bizarre nature of the initiation ceremony that shocked me but the way a once respected journalist – Political Editor of The Sunday Times no less – could so casually abandon professional journalistic standards in order to help the bitter Ashcroft grind his axe.

The story has one unnamed source. It hasn’t been verified or checked against a second source, presumably because one couldn’t be found despite all their efforts. It also wasn’t put to Cameron before publication. These are essential procedures for professional journalists and the failure to follow these was put to Oakeshott on Channel 4 News last night and has also been raised by New Statesman on Ashcroft. Her glib dismissal of such concerns does her no credit.

They have taken a gamble. A gamble that Cameron won’t sue. They are probably right in that judgement but that still doesn’t mean they were right to publish.

Sink into the morass

Journalists come across all sorts of gossip in the course of their careers, much of it malicious and which can never be corroborated. It never gets published. You cannot rush into print the moment someone whispers something salacious in your ear otherwise you fall into the trap of doing someone’s dirty work for them, of taking sides and being a mere conduit and withdrawing from exercising any judgement. If journalists stop checking facts and giving people a chance to comment on them then they stop being professional. Crucially, they stop adding value for their readers. Once they do that they just sink into the morass of unverified content that washes around us from all sides in the digital era.

From → Politics, Publishing

One Comment
  1. Why won’t Cameron sue? Some argue it is tantamount to admission if he doesn’t, but might taking it to court make things worse?


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