Monday, December 01, 2008

The first draft of history

I've been approached twice this year by broadcast journalists researching Boris Johnson. First, the BBC's Politics Show, before Johnson was elected Mayor of London, then last week by someone working with Channel Four. They're making a documentary about - in the words of this researcher - "what sort of man" is in charge of our capital city.

There's a phrase: "what sort of man". It could be neutral, taken at face value, but it isn't in practice. And in neither case was the research neutral.

Their interest in me stems from the fact that nearly twenty years ago, when I was in the middle of a struggle with someone called Darius Guppy, I tapped his phone and caught a conversation he had with Johnson, then the Telegraph's man in Brussels. In this conversation, Guppy tried to get Johnson to seek the address of a News of the World journalist Guppy wanted to have beaten up.

Guppy had framed me for a robbery in New York, and the circumstances were, to me, extreme. So I tapped his phone to get a measure of the extent of his treachery, then I let some of the media have copies of one of the tape. In it, Johnson agreed to get the man's address but, as I have since pointed out, didn't do so, indeed made no attempt to do so and, because he also tried to make sure Guppy didn't try any other avenues of enquiry, might even have stopped the assault taking place.

The Channel Four chap wanted a copy of the tape, or a transcript of it. I declined. It might seem a bit rich, since I once went out of my way to publicise it, but I don't really hold with the release of private conversations. In fact, I don't hold with phone tapping. Twenty years ago the circumstances were, as I said, extreme, but they aren't now. Guppy is just another dodgy expat in South Africa and even his most energetic efforts at getting back at me - setting up a sort of tribute website, among other things - have had no other effect than to threaten the well-being of my liver (after a comment was left on his blog by someone pretending not to be Guppy, Steve - for example - mailed me and said "Someone's really got it in for you; fancy a beer?"*).

So in both cases I explained that I was not prepared to release a copy of the tape and also explained that Johnson didn't actually facilitate this planned beating-up of a journalist. In both cases, the interest of the journalists evaporated like breath from a razor blade.

In both cases, I suggest, the journalists were planning a hatchet job and had no interest whatever in the truth of the matter.

BBC2 and Channel Four have high pretensions to seriousness; they imagine themselves to be broadcasting in the tradition of the Times journalists of old who conscientiously - in their eyes - prepared every day the "first draft of history".

But the people who approached me were interested only in things that might discredit a Conservative politician and were perfectly willing to ignore exonerating evidence. Omission is a form of lying.

Now, tell me you're surprised.

UPDATE: I published this post last night. Just before 9:00am this morning, I received a call from a Channel 4 reporter. I'll update again in due course.

* I repeat this correspondence with Steve's permission, of course.


Stan said...

"What sort of man" is Boris Johnson? One the public voted for. I wonder if they did any such digging around for Ken Livingstone or Barack Obama?

Anonymous said...

There will be few consolations when the country finally descends into near-fascist confusion, but a bit of slaughter at the BBC abd Channel 4 might constitute one. After all, it's the Forces of Progress that have done so much of the damage.

Unknown said...

Did they similarly wonder "what sort of man" Red Ken was?