Half a defence of Paul Staines (aka @guidofawkes)

by Stephen Tall on September 1, 2010

My Voice colleague Iain Roberts has already blogged about this afternoon’s big political news that William Hague’s special advisor Christopher Myers has quit his post following allegations — vehemently denied by both — that they might be having an affair.

Iain writes: “We at Lib Dem Voice wish both the Hagues and Christopher Myers well,” and I agree 100%. However, there are two further points I’d make.

The questions were fair enough…

Paul Staines blogged about the issue on 24th August, using the Freedom of Information Act to ask three questions inquiring as to the suitability of Mr Myers acting as the Foreign Secretary’s special advisor. In this he was within his rights, no matter the juvenile nudge-nudge-wink-wink (‘Just asking’) innuendo. Mr Myers was a public servant, paid by the taxpayer, and — if there were rumours circulating within Westminster that he was under-qualified and hired for the wrong reasons — it is reasonable that bloggers/journalists should pursue the story. Unlike the last-but-one Labour Prme Minister, who has today dismissed the FOI as an “imbecility”, asking questions is the proper way for such issues to be investigated.

Of course the ‘gay angle’ was played up for all it was worth, just as it was with David Laws over his expenses. That is sad, deeply sad, for the individuals involved, and for their family and friends. But that does not in itself mean that, in either case, journalists were wrong to ask the questions, even if the tenor of the reporting in both cases shimmered with latent homophobia.

…But let’s not make this about blogging

Where I partially disagree with Iain is in this statement: “This may be a good opportunity for political bloggers to reflect on where we’re falling short of those standards and how we can improve.” Yes, we should always reflect. But let’s not give more ‘kudos’ to Paul Staines than he deserves, let’s not allow him to claim another ‘scalp’. He was not even the first to run with the innuendo: that dubious honour belongs (I believe) to the Daily Mail, whose photo-led story on 21st August was clearly intended to be suggestive to those ‘in the know’. The story was picked up again by the Telegraph (23rd August), Mail again (24th August), and the Telegraph again (25th August).

Had the claims remained within the confines of Paul Staines’ blog, they would scarcely have caused a murmur. They did not. What we saw instead was a symbiotic relationship between two right-wing newspapers and a right-wing blog, egging each other on to pile on the pressure by whatever means possible. This was not a ‘political’ blogger acting in isolation, but in concert with two newspapers which are happy to ape the worst tactics of the Guido Fawkes’ smear-machine when it suits them. It is not bloggers alone who need to reflect; but any journalists willing to drop journalistic standards for the sake of a cheap story.