Thursday, 21 June 2012

Potentially the best episode of Leveson yet

Forget Murdoch, forget Cameron, forget even momentarily the revolving door of celebrities. Next week's Leveson Inqury session promises to be one of the most fascinating yet.

The journalist who reported that Lord Justice Leveson himself had threated to quit over Michael Gove's apparent attack on the Inquiry is expected to give evidence.

Part of this seems a little sinister: A Judge currently holding inquiry into press having the power to summon a reporter who wrote an unfavourable story to answer for his insolence seems a bit heavy-handed.

But then when you actually read what the report says, you have to wonder whether this threat to quit actually happened, and how the reporter will bat away accusations of spin.

Reading the story rather than the headlines, we see it is based on an unnamed Government insider saying they got the 'clear impression' Leveson was 'ready to resign' unless Gove stopped attacking the Inquiry. 

Needless to say a you can get an impression that someone is ready to quit without them saying just that. Particularly if you are an unattributed source for a story. 

Matters are complicated the very next unnamed source, who says there was a call made by Leveson to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, but no threat to quit. Who to believe?

I doubt there would be any question of revealing sources' identities, nor should there be.

But given that it report centres on a call made by Leveson himself to the Government, at least one party to that conversation will presumably be willing to give an account of it.

If this differs significantly from the Mail on Sunday, it will be fascinating to see how it pans out.

Hopefully a note was kept of the Leveson-Heywood phone conversation, otherwise it will be a case of accepting one person's word over another.

But assume for one moment that no threat was made, the report would be a text book example of how paper can report something inaccurate while giving the impression that it was.

In the headline, the phrase 'Threat to Quit' is in inverted commas, so it is being presented as a claim not fact.

The first line is that Leveson "threatened to quit after he was publicly criticised by a Cabinet Minister, senior Government sources claimed last night [emphasis added]."

Again it is not being claimed that Leveson threatened to quit. Just that an unnamed source said he did.

Then we get the quote, which, as I said above, talks of an having an impression Leveson was 'ready to quit' not that he had explicitly threatened to quit.

Finally we get the other quote denying the threat was made.

So really the newspaper is just reporting a rumour of significant interest, but also including a denial of that rumour. Who could argue with that, or even say it was untrue?

The point is that it gives an impression that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Again assuming no threat was made, we get a story that gives the overwhelming impression that one was made, but without explicitly saying reporting that.

It's hardly a novel tactic, and certainly not the most heinous crime in newspaper history.

But now Leveson is the subject of a story and the author is being asked to account for it, it wil be intriguing to hear the explanation.

And yes, if there really was a threat to quit, I'm here for your derision.

No comments: