Friday, April 23, 2010

When is a smear a smear?

I find it bizarre that lefty news organisations such as the Independent, the Guardian and the BBC came out yesterday against the "attacks" of "right-wing press" (I wasn't aware the Telegraph was right-wing any more, but never mind) against Nick Clegg. In fact pretty much all the reports were keen to present these attacks as "smears".

Firstly, this must be seen in the context of what the media also describes as "smears", specifically those seen in "Smeargate" wherein we learned that one of the Prime Minister's closest aides spent his time under Gordon Brown's employment making up nasty stories about Conservative MPs and circulating them to lefty hacks. These slanderous stories, which were self-evidently fictitious, were defined by the press as "smears" - fair enough.

However, in that context, it gives the impression that the stories about Nick Clegg's expenses (claiming to have his kitchen renovated three times - like any good Lib Dem he was obviously sitting on the fence about what it should look like), his views (expressing why Britain shouldn't proud of its role in WWII might be a noble discussion to articulate, but it is not becoming of someone who is asking to be our Prime Minister - or whatever it is he is asking us to do to him) and his financial arrangements (having donations made by government contractors into his private account might be above board, but it's an incredibly dodgy arrangement) are also of that nature - when in fact every single piece of it is from publicly documented evidence. And while Fleet Street hacks might be completely useless at a great number of things, they don't have a reputation for making stuff up.

And yet the likes of the BBC report these accusations as "smears" by the nasty right-wing press, the "Tory-supporting newspapers", as though these attacks have been co-ordinated by George Osborne himself. Ben Brogan says these aren't smears, this is scrutiny - and if the Liberal Democrats want to be taken seriously as a political party then they ought to expect rather a lot of that, because it's what David Cameron and Gordon Brown get the rest of the time (not least from them!!!).

But of course then the whole thing takes a rather deeper turn, with the Guardian and the Independent (not the BBC this time, this would be an editorialisation too far) out-and-out attacking their fellow newspapers (and Rupert Murdoch in particular) for going to such lengths to make 'their guy' look bad, as though they have never editorialised, as though they have never had an agenda to destroy an individual or a political force.

And yet you only need look six weeks into the past to see what complete and utter hypocrites they really are.

Over a decade ago, some bloke you've never heard of joined the House of Lords under a unique conditional arrangement that required him to take up permanent residence in the United Kingdom, and then, without telling anyone other than the government he was accountable to, took up a non-domiciled tax status. Everything he did was fully within the law (and indeed there are several other peers on all sides of the House who behave identically, although weirdly none of them have ever been given conditional peerages). However, the reason you're supposed to care about this? He took the Tory whip and donated shedloads to the party, and six weeks ago his tax status was forced into the public domain.

What's whiffy about the story is unclear but the fact that he'd kept his private tax information secret for all these years gave the left-wing press the opportunity to write as many nasty articles about Lord Ashcroft and the Conservative Party as they could think of. To the extent that even when there wasn't any more new information about Lord Ashcroft or the situation they still published a seemingly endless stream of highly-prominent articles at a fast pace, all of them claiming that Ashcroft had done something horribly wrong and many of them declaring that he should be sacked immediately.

Now, will the likes of the Indy admit the prominence and the frequency of those Ashcroft articles were a concerted effort designed to smear Ashcroft and damage the Conservative party in the run-up to a general election, hence making them complete hypocrites on this particular issue, or are they going to talk down to us as if we're all complete and utter morons? (and judging by the reaction to their attacks on Murdoch etc, it's entirely possible that for the most part they're right?)

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