Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Guido, Sir Michael and the so-called "car crash"

Another thing that happened while I was away was the infamous Newsnight interview involving blogger Guido Fawkes. Guido has himself conceded that it was mistake to break his own rule and agree to be interviewed, while the reaction on blogosphere as a whole has been scathing, the consensus being that he was made mincemeat of by veteran Guardian hack "Sir" Michael White. But having now looked at the film, and the ensuing studio discussion, I am not convinced it was quite as one-sided as has been presented.

White kicked off the studio discussion, chaired by Jeremy Paxman with Guido appearing in "shadow" from Westminster, with a well-made point about how it is not only political journalists who run the risk of getting too close to their sources. In fact it is far more of a problem in entertainment journalism. One-nil to White. But Michael then threw away this early advantage by revealing Guido's real name, which was somewhat cheap, and saying he looked a "prat" for wearing a rugby shirt at a lobby lunch, which came over as simply pompous. One-all.

White then reacted to Guido's oft-made allegation that the Lobby had effectively concealed the truth about John Prescott's private life with the counter-claim that Prescott was being "stitched-up" by bloggers. To which I can only respectfully say: Bollocks, Michael. Prescott fairly adeptly stitched himself up by (i) shagging his secretary, and (ii) infuriating Labour MPs by allowing himself, as the keeper of the cloth cap, to be pictured playing the decadent upper-class sport of croquet at his country retreat. Two-one to Guido.

Sir Michael then compounded even this error by maintaining he did not know John Prescott's age, despite an earlier report that he had attended his 68th birthday party. Well, sorry, but whether he attended the party or not, I find it preposterous that someone who was a national newspaper political editor for 16 years would not actually know the Deputy Prime Minister's age, particularly as it was a point at issue in his decision to retire along with Tony Blair. Three-one Guido.

At this point in the discussion, Guido was well ahead in my view, but threw away his advantage with two silly errors in the closing stages. First, he made a reference to Lord Levy's forthcoming "trial" which presented an absolute gift-horse for White and Paxman to accuse bloggers of being cavalier with the facts. Three-two. Then, in injury time, Guido made the grievous mistake - which a real lobby hack would never make - or naming a source (BBC political editor Nick Robinson) for one his stories. Three-all.

In conclusion, even though Guido managed to break the first rule of journalism - not exactly surprising given he isn't a journalist - he still got away with a score draw. He may not have covered himself with glory, but I don't think White did either and he came over as both pompous and petulant, which oddly is the very opposite of how I remember him from my lobby days.

As it is, the degree of gloating on other blogs about this interview is to me symptomatic of the marked lack of charity that currently characterises the blogosphere. It seems a long time ago that Guido, Iain Dale, Tim Ireland, Justin McKeating and myself were among a large group of bloggers who joined forces to put together the Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze. It was a great collaborative effort, masterminded by Dale, but at least two of us were not invited to contribute to the second edition, and you probably couldn't get all five of us together in a room these days without fisticuffs.

I don't agree with Guido's politics, or all of his methods, and I do agree with some of Tim's points about the need for some commonly agreed standards of blog etiquette. But even if the blogosphere might be a little more well-mannered without Guido, it would almost certainly not have as a high a profile - and we have all benefited from that.

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david kendrick said...

About fair. Some of the critics of Guido rather resent the fact that he has retired in his early 30s, and now is beholden to no-one.

Like Private Eye, he is not always right. But similarly, he is right far more often than he is wrong.

MorrisOx said...

Fawkes came across as an ill-informed ass, tossing allegations around ike confetti. Which rather watered down the fact that some of them were true.

Sir Michael? A great man. I was allowed to speak to him once.

rigger said...

I have to agree Paul,I watched the interview after I'd read the astroturfers ripping guido apart.It seemd like a few people got a bit of revenge in whilst he was weakened.

I felt the same as you and whilst guido came off as looking naieve,sir michael white displayed the arrogance that makes the tories so unlikeable.

Nice to read someone with an ounce of clarity

rigger said...

clarity.. charity..meant one of them

Anonymous said...

They both made fools of themselves and neither of them came out of it looking good.

skipper said...

Quite agree arrogance makes the Tories unlikable but Michael White is very far from being one- I'd bet he votes Labour.
On balance I agree with Paul's analysis. Guido did not have such a fatal 'car crash' but his demeanour and fluty voice made it seem as if he did. He should stick to what he's good at.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure most of the people that watched the programme will agree. Sir Michael White came across as a self righteous arse.Keep up the good work Guido.

Honey Weeks said...

Michael White really came across as an incredibly unpleasant person. He seems very threatened by blogging, maybe because it involves individual thought and responsibility, rather than hiding behind layers of administrative editing and flappers. His attack on Guido was really personal and didn't really address political blogging as a whole. White was consistently rude and very unpolished...I now understand why the Guardian is so turgid, verbose, and bland without ever saying anything! White is clearly a dinosaur, and the Guardian seems to be a "World that Time Forgot". I wonder if he still uses a manual typewriter?