To be fair …

by Stephen Tall on September 29, 2009

I made clear my view on Sunday that the BBC’s Andrew Marr was bang out-of-order to ask Gordon Brown whether he uses prescription drugs seemingly on the basis of nothing more than Internet rumour:

… in making it an issue on the basis of no evidence, Andrew Marr and the BBC have done a real disservice to serious political reporting.

I stand by my assessment. However, I also pointed out that, at the time of writing, no-one from the right-wing blogosphere had taken Mr Marr to task. It’s only fair, therefore, to note that Tory MP Nadine Dorries yesterday broke ranks with the fellow members of her tribe to post a stinging denunciation:

From entirely my own perspective, British TV journalism hit the gutter yesterday, as Marr took a broadcast interview into a place usually inhabited by red top newspapers. … Do we believe that, as three out of five people suffer with mental health problems/depression at some stage during their life, those people should be excluded from holding high office forever? …

Attacking the man in such a personal way, and not at all professionally, took journalism to a new low and eroded what respect is left within society for politicians. It moved us one step further along the road of a society concerned more with image and gossip than substance and fact. It was a very significant and sad moment.

I’m not sure it’s ever been said by a Lib Dem before, but here goes: well done, Nads! You even managed to win a convert, ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie, who tweeted:

I’ve dithered for 24 hours but @NadineDorriesMP has convinced me that Marr was wrong to ask THAT question

I’m disappointed it took Tim – with whom I disagree on pretty much everything, but have always regarded as fundamentally decent – a day to draw the conclusion, but nevertheless it’s a relief to see the Tory tribe is not so in hock to the cult of Guido not to excuse shoddy, tasteless journalism simply because it’s an attack on Gordon Brown.

Also worth quoting is former PoliticsHome, BBC, Express and Mail lobby correspondent, Nick Assinder, who left no-one in any doubt that he thought Andrew Marr was wrong, and pinned the blame firmly on the right-wing blogosphere:

… this entire rumour started with a single post on an obscure blog, and was based on alleged remarks about Brown’s diet from a Downing Street insider which led the blogger to conclude this must be the consequence of his being prescribed powerful anti-depressants. … The story might have stopped there if it had not been for the fact that bloggers – and, in the first instance it was right-wing bloggers like Guido and Iain Dale – ran with it.

Dale, for example, did the old trick of criticising those who were attacking Brown on the basis of his alleged ill-health, stating, if the story was true, the Prime Minister deserved sympathy not ridicule. It ensured the story got another good show in the blogosphere and, inevitably, was then taken up by the mainstream media.

So, here is a classic example of a dark, unsubstantiated rumour about the Prime Minister’s personal life that owes its existence entirely to a single blog. The fact that it fitted the narrative about Brown’s character only ensured it gained even greater exposure. …

No one is suggesting this was a deliberate plot like smeargate. If anything, it shows such coordinated campaigns are unnecessary, a single blog posting can do the trick. None the less, Damian McBride would have been proud.

Ouch. And spot on.