Friday, January 15, 2010

These Hacks Do Talk Some Drivel

Nick's latest blog post is hard to resist.

The other night I saw Dinner with Portillo[1] -a show whose conceit of filming members of the chattering classes eating lukewarm food and regurgitating received opinions I can assert with confidence would never occur to any commissioning editor from any other country on the planet.

Foreign television is rightly famous for quality programming, of course.

Lukewarm food! Whatever next? And I thought the chatterati were all salad grazers. Why, that's half way to eating roasts like the stout-hearted yeoman of England's glory. I quite like 'eating ... and regurgitating' - I'd even steal it if I could allow it pass without a Princess Di reference.

Anyway, this is really a hook for Nick to copy and paste an entire blog post of Alistair Campbell's because Julia Hartley Brewer of the Express said he (Campbell) can't write. Journalists don't like the former doctor of spin; and Campbell hates most journalists going by his tweets.

Having a sandwich mid inquiry. Watching lunchtime news. God these hacks do talk some drivel

Fair point, but Alastair "45 minutes" Campbell can't tell drivel from melting snow. Another tweet reads:

had fascinating call from behavioural psychologist who fears Paul Dacre has homoerotic fantasies about me. Poor Mail Obergruppenfuhrer

Alastair's quite big on looney doctors. His last novel was about one. He ought to know that this sort of psychoanalysis by proxy isn't taken seriously by anyone not a hack or a quack. It didn't work out at all well for Colin Stagg for instance. I hate the Mail too, and Dacre strikes me as exceptionally unpleasant. To steal a word George Monbiot stole from Arthur Koestler, Dacre is a mimophant. But I doubt he's responsible for every word that appears in the Mail; suggesting he is magnifies his abilities considerably. Jan Moir wrote a particularly ugly and homophobic article last November, but it's no good pinning her prejudices on homophobia alone, as today she managed to write an equally nasty piece about Antonia Fraser.

It's also funny that while Campbell likes to rant about "queer-looking Quentin Quetts" and the suppressed homoeroticism, he apparently forgot that Dacre recently poached the Openly-gay journalist Andrew Pierce.

I was going to ask rhetorically about all the misogynistic tripe the Mail peddles about how female slebs look simply horrid away from the studio. Except it does the same thing to men. Maybe there's something in all this psychosexual theorising, after all.

But what is it about dinner parties?

Update. Dang! Just remembered what set me off on this - Marina Hyde on Myleene Klass.

Finally, I'm reminded by a Guardian commenter of the story the illusionist Derren Brown tells of bumping into the charlatan Derek Acorah, whom he naturally holds in righteous disdain, but found himself unwilling to harangue in person. As Derren puts it, "my own apparently strong feelings gave way to the simple social code of being nice." And yet, according to a report that subsequently appeared in the Sun, "The pair started rowing but Myleene Klass, Derek's co-host for the new series of Ghost Stories, stepped in. The insider said: "Myleene told Derren to leave Derek alone. She said, 'You're obviously threatened by him.'"

I'm sure Dacre, though a prize wanker in his own way, is equally threatened by Campbell.

[1] Update 2 I've now seen Dinner with Portillo. I enjoyed it, but then, being a saddo, it's the sort of thing I do enjoy. Julia Hartley Brewer eviscerated Campbell; she was a joy to watch. I don't think her dislike stems from unrequited attraction; I'd say she considers him sexist and patronising. It wasn't only her who didn't rate Campbell's writing: Oona King, erstwhile darling of Harry's Place, and Roy Hattersley, who was Deputy Leader when Campbell was supposedly a political journalist on the Mirror, both agreed. Portillo, for the record, thought Campbell was a good writer. Besides, I can't but respect Chris Mullin, who I think is a good egg and somewhat loftier than merely a member of the "chattering classes."


Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

the portillo programme might sound awful but it's hosted people such as bhutto and, er, nick's mate francis wheen. I sincerely doubt nick would turn down an invitation and it's not like foreign tv companies haven't come up with worse-does nick even know about american tv? The country which produced ALF and homeboys in outer space? It'd also be useful if nick could give an accurate quote for the brewer opinion of campbell's diaries because it sounds suspiciously like she was only talking about his *diaries* being badly written. Equally, i don't think that mail piece is much cop. I think nick has once again confused "something i agree with", with "something objectively of the highest quality".

1/15/2010 04:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Wrestling Dick said...


1/15/2010 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

In the nearly four years I've lived in Spain, I have never heard anybody say there's something on TV I really ought to be seeing, nor heard of anybody saying so to anybody.

1/15/2010 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Just on the empirical point of whether foreign countries commission television programmes in which members of the great and good discuss political issues of the day in more or less anodyne terms, I can only conclude that Nick a) doesn't speak French or Italian and b) hasn't been to America. Maybe his house doesn't have cable or something. French TV in particular seems to consist of nothing but.

1/16/2010 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

In the nearly four years I've lived in Spain, I have never heard anybody say there's something on TV I really ought to be seeing, nor heard of anybody saying so to anybody.

Having lived in Bilbao for a while I have to agree. Spanish TV really is dreadful. They desperately need an institution like the BBC.

1/16/2010 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Simon K said...

"I sincerely doubt nick would turn down an invitation"

I doubt he'd get an invitation, if only because the wine order would blow the programme's budget.

1/17/2010 02:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sunday 17th; Full-frontal assault today from Nick in the Observer on Chilcot Inquiry watchers. With added bonus of an attempt to get going an anti-semitism narrative.


1/17/2010 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Nice one - I didn't realise DwP was back on. Nick really is a wassock isn't he.

Not that it is exactly perfect, but a political discussion show with

1. knowledgable, experienced and articulate panellists
2. no live audience
3. no jobbing politicans or random slebs
4. wine

really is not that bad an idea.

And Unaware of the dangers of self-parody? Really? Well, Nick should know (not know) about that. As soon as he elaborates his report of JHB taking the piss out of Campbell's writing, it's so utterly, tediously inevitable as to be almost surprising when he does actually proceed to the "The flattering implication left hanging in the air was that she could deliver her stern verdict because she was a good journalist who could write" course.

And JHB was taking the piss out of a good deal more than AC's writing - worth seeing, as is the gleeful assent with which it was received from what appeared to be just about all quarters.

Re: the chattering classes regurgitating received opinion. Yes, maybe that dinner party motif confused him into thinking he was watching a Bremner sketch. I think the term is 'the political class', Nick.

Certainly the most unashamedly rote regurgititation I've seen on DwP was from Pauline Neville-Jones - and the opinions were not received Hampstead-liberal but propagated military-industrial.

1/17/2010 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

As for Campbell's narcissistic bullshit about all those fucking queer cunts at the Mail, the only vaguely (very vaguely) interesting bit is his claim that he spent a libel award on new gates for a (state) primary school - PPP in action?

Well, that and the odd suggestion that his 'friend' might have used behavioural psychology to derive findings about 'fantasies' and being 'in love'.

1/17/2010 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

In Nick's piece today:

they ought to know that you never level an accusation you can't substantiate because you make life too easy for your targets when you do.

Is he taking the piss here? Is there a journalist in Britain who takes less care on his accusations?

1/17/2010 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Got to agree with Tim; DwP is actually quite a good talking heads show; the quality of guests was very high.

Oliver Miles in the Independent:

Rather less attention has been paid to the curious appointment of two historians (which seems a lot, out of a total of five), both strong supporters of Tony Blair and/or the Iraq war. In December 2004 Sir Martin Gilbert, while pointing out that the "war on terror" was not a third world war, wrote that Bush and Blair "may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill" – an eccentric opinion that would se em to rule him out as a member of the committee. Sir Lawrence Freedman is the reputed architect of the "Blair doctrine" of humanitarian intervention, which was invoked in Kosovo and Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

Both Gilbert and Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism. Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media, but The Jewish Chronicle and the Israeli media have no such inhibitions, and the Arabic media both in London and in the region are usually not far behind.

All five members have outstanding reputations and records, but it is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available. Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.

Not quite the anti-Semitism Nick insinuates. Is he mates with Campbell now?

1/17/2010 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

@Matthew. Nick's argument seems to be "whether there were WMD or not, and whether the UN process was properly observed or not, removing Saddam was morally defensible - therefore legal - because he was a tyrant." While Norman Geras seems particularly impressed with this line of reasoning, it does present a lot of further problems. Blair has unequivocally said that he didn't think he could get regime change past Parliament. "Saddam is dead bad" was not among the arguments used here or in the US or to the UN. "Illegal war" is a legal term and has a legal definition. Saudi Arabia is arguably a tyranny, so are Syria, Libya, Iran, Kuwait, South Korea, whatever Burma is called now, most of the former Soviet Union states, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, China, and - to most Americans, anyway - Cuba. Follow Nick's logic and we're at war for the next millenium. And, of course, Saddam was just as bad in 1991, post Halabja, which 'Chemical Ali' has just received the death sentence for (his fourth). Why didn't we remove him then? Dick Cheney was Defense Secretary ...

I know this is all old to all of you, but why does he even go there?

1/17/2010 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It should be "the Jewish Chronicle", not "The Jewish Chronicle". Everybody's does this nowadays, but they're wrong.

When Nick says "you never level an accusation you can't substantiate" what does he mean by "you", and what does he mean by "never"? Actual journalists and their editors do this all the time - provided their targets aren't rich and powerful. Or sometimes even when they are.

1/17/2010 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does he even go there ? It may be because he thinks the best form of defence is attack.

Nick says "in 2003 they (the Coalition) overthrew the tyrant thinking that he still possessed the weapons he used against the Kurds and the Iranians. He didn't and the occupation turned into a disaster as the followers of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Ruhollah Khomeini began a campaign of mass sectarian killing."

So he backed the lovely occupation, but them darned Iraqi's let him down. Now Nick likes to claim this was because of poor "planning", but as well as supporting the Iraq war, Nick argued furiously hard for Rumsfeld and the Defense Department to be given charge in Iraq - Nick's hopes won out, but the result was that even the limited attempts at having a plan for the Iraq occupation, that rested with the State Department, were thrown away: Not only did Nick argue hard for the war, he also argued hard for the people responsible for the postwar chaos.

For Nick;s arguments before the war see eg


(which includes him denouncing the left because

"When I put this programme [for war] to my democratic and secular comrades, they turn nasty. I hear that the peoples of Iraq will slaughter each other if Saddam goes; that any US-sponsored replacement will be worse"

Ann On

1/17/2010 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

And it may be a bit quaint to say so, but isn't the main reason you shouldn't level a charge you can't substantiate that if you can't substantiate it, you basically don't actually have good evidence for it?

Nick gets (or got) this in the case of Colin Stagg, but apparently not in rather a lot of other cases.

(BTW on the NIck-related topic that first led me to AW: is he definitely Ratbiter? I know the profile and AFAICT the style fits, but FWIW a friend of mine has an email from him explicitly and unambiguously denying it.)

1/17/2010 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it isn't Nick, it's someone who has not only a remarkably similar style but also remarkably similar preoccupations. For instance, cutting and pasting articles from HP Sauce that don't make any sense to anyone who doesn't read HP and accept its entire worldview. (The "SNP in league with Muslim Brotherhood" saga was a case in point.) Quoting Douglas Murray and David Toube as if they were experts on Islam or something. Harping on about how Gordon Brown got Martin Bright sacked from the Staggers. And the boring on and on about libel reform, Simon Singh, that litigious Saudi sheikh and so on.

You know, I'm a bit ambivalent about this libel reform campaign, not least because of Nick's involvement. It's hard to think of anyone in the print media who flings around unsupported accusations with such gay abandon. If he doesn't succeed in getting the libel laws gutted, sooner or later he'll be the cause of such an enormous award that he'll be rendered unemployable.

1/17/2010 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Well, yes - actually, 'preoccupations' was just the word that occurred to me before I opted for the broader 'profile' - but it's not even entirely beyond the bounds of possibility (though seems unlikely) that it's actually Wheen, who seems to have converged on largely the same set of opinions. Or some other Eustonian type. Any candidates?

Not that Nick's denial counts for much - if he had any compunction at all about lying, it wouldn't be hard to devise some justification e.g. if there is a substantial right to preserve pseudonymity and silence will be taken as tacit admission.

In fact a similar justification is implied the Rehab of Offenders regime, which in effect tells those with cautions or spent convictions to lie on application forms which (improperly but AFAIK not illegally) ask unqualified questions about them.

Re: the libel business. The main problem is surely the general one of inequality of resources, hence of representation.

RB, I think, does vaguely mention the trend of going for the author rather than the publisher, but doesnt do much in the way of providing solutions (beyond hoping for the egregious Eady to retire quickly.)

And, separately, I suspect this privacy business is likely to be extended quite a lot, possibly even to cover 'commercially confidential' stuff etc.

[BTW in previous post, the equivalence of (a) inability to publicly substantiate P and (b) not having good evidence for P is of course not strict - personal memory of witnessing P would be one counter e.g..

It is much closer than many seem to think, though, e.g. off-the-record statements are prima f. less reliable than on-the-record ones, even if there are good independent reasons for such caution. Also it's common to put too much trust in an informant's veracity (honesty + well-informedness), esp a friend.

Sorry to go on - it all seems worth saying at the time, and only costs one scrolldown per reader...]

1/17/2010 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I think Wheen's style is a little different (for comparison purposes, I imagine he is the writer of the Ray Keene piece in the latest Eye) but I agree that it shouldn't be assumed that Nick is Ratbiter unless and until we know better. Particularly if people are going on about failing to back up allegations.

1/17/2010 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have good reason to believe it isn't Wheen. That's from a reliable source, and as Justin points out, Francis has a rather different style.

1/17/2010 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

I have good reason to believe it isn't Wheen obviously nothing personal, but in all consistency I suppose I have to hold that whatever that reason may be, it hasn't been successfully transmitted to me...

But in any case, agree about Wheen's (non-pseudonymous) style.

And IIRC, my mate did say that there was some unconvincing "A Ratbiter, you say? What on earth kind of a thing could one of those possibly be?" sort of stuff in the email he got from NC. (But can you believe that?)

Anyone got access to style-analysing software? I'd be happy to contribute some OCR'd Ratbiter samples. ...But would I really be happy to contribute some OCR'd Ratbiter samples?

1/17/2010 08:22:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah Ditum said...

With Nick's libel reform activism, I think he's on the right side for scattershot reasons. He just doesn't like journalists being impinged upon in any way, whether it's legally or informally (eg his consternation about twittermobs).

1/17/2010 09:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Re Ratbiter. I don't see why an pseudonymous column should be written by just one writer. I actually thought that that sort of thing was a joint effort. Also, apart from the style, I doubt Nick is the only Harry's Place reader among professional journalists, nor the only with an interest in libel law.

Re Cambell:

I dont like bullies so my last spat was with Alistair Campbell. Otherwise I am quite nice really

Suzanne Moore on this rather wonderful blog post about Rod Liddle. (That saved me a post.)

1/17/2010 09:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes, when Suzanne's on form she's very good.

In re Ratbiter, I assume it isn't Wheen because a) it doesn't fit his non-pseudonymous style and b) a mutual acquaintance told me it definitely wasn't him. It's an odd column, though - I know the Eye has always had its specialist subject columns, most of which have well-determined agendas, but I can't ever remember the Eye having a specifically ideological column. It's not just that the author reads HP - Aaro, after all, reads HP - but it reads like the work of someone who gets most of his news from reading HP.

On the libel reform thing, for me the main issue is inequality of resources, and that's not something any reform of the law can really address. But if you ask any journalist do they want more liberal libel laws, it's like asking the police if they want the power to detain suspects longer. I also recall Nick's stand on Galloway v the Telegraph, which was IIRC that since Galloway was such a reprehensible character the press should be able to just make shit up about him without facing legal consequences. So I'm not unsympathetic to the principle, but there's something about Nick's approach that makes me think "Well, fuck Simon Singh if that's your attitude."

1/17/2010 10:27:00 PM  

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