Peter Oborne: Ideologue as Journalist
David Aaronovitch’s letter to the editor of The Spectator this week is worth reproducing outside the magazine’s semi-pay-wall:
Tagged in: david aaronovitch, journalistic ethics, peter oborne
Sir: Your edition of 28 September included a 1,500-word demand from the journalist Peter Oborne to the effect that the Times, the newspaper that I work for, should sack its columnist Danny Finkelstein. The reason given by Oborne for this view is that Finkelstein is too parti pris and close to people in power to be a ‘proper’ journalist. He is wrong in his argument and also, I believe, deficient in his journalism.
Oborne deploys the veteran cliché about true journalists ‘speaking truth unto power’. Yet the history of British newspapers is full of ‘political’ journalists such as Finkelstein. At the Telegraph there were great figures such as Bill Deedes and T.E. Utley and here at The Spectator ideological editors have included Nigel Lawson, Iain MacLeod and Boris Johnson. Indeed Peter Oborne served as Johnson’s political editor. Was that a problem? Oborne does not tell us, since the one power he seems never quite to speak truth unto is the one that employs him.
Oborne’s strictures on journalistic values would also have had more authority had he demonstrated faithfulness to them himself. Instead he opted to repeat a series of claims from anonymous sources about Finkelstein’s ‘hidden’ relationship with George Osborne. These estimated a Finkelstein-Osborne phone-call rate of seven a day and claimed that Osborne’s speeches were written by the Times man. Well, a source so close to Daniel Finkelstein that he is Daniel Finkelstein told me that such claims were nonsense. He would have told Oborne the same thing had Oborne followed Journalist Ethics 101 and actually contacted him. It must have slipped his mind.
The irony is that it is Oborne — with his conviction that an Edenic world was destroyed by the Satanic Tony Blair — who is guilty of imposing ideology on journalism. This fixation has led him in the past to entertain ludicrous conspiracy theories about the death of Dr David Kelly. And last week the collateral in his battle with Evil included Finkelstein as well as the former editor ‘the wretched’ James Harding, one of the best journalists I have worked with, under whose aegis the Times was praised for its investigative journalism.
For shame, Peter.
Wapping, London E1
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