8:36 am - November 25th 2008
Plenty of people had plenty of fun at the expense of Andrew Gilligan last week. Now the laughter has died down, let’s assess what has been learned.
Looking through the threads of the two Cif articles in question – by Ken Livingstone’s former chief of staff Simon Fletcher and by esteemed fellow Conspirator Adam Bienkov – we see striking examples of Gilligan making false allegations against his critics, being shown to be in the wrong, then failing to admit it or apologise. They don’t inspire much confidence.
1) At 4.50 on Friday afternoon, a commenter called AView posted three times on Adam’s thread in quick succession. Posting at 5.53 Gilligan asserted that AView was a pseudonym of Livingstone’s economics adviser John Ross. An hour later Ross, posting as RMRoss, made an appearance to point out that this was wrong (as did AView in the small hours of the following morning).
Image by Beau Bo D’Or
2) A more serious example emerged from Gilligan’s exchanges with Ross. In his first post on the thread, Ross revealed that during the election campaign the Evening Standard had apologized for something Gilligan had written about him in a long and tendentious attempted expose of an alleged plot between (as it happens) Simon Fletcher and TfL, to discredit Johnson’s “New Routemaster” policy. I have a copy of the article in question, complete with the offending passage. As a result of Ross’s complaint this was removed from later editions of that day’s paper and does not appear in the online archive version.
Gilligan’s response was to deny that any of this had taken place.
We certainly never apologised over anything I wrote about you or Ken because, despite regularly attacking my reporting, you never actually made any complaint to us.
The following morning Ross posted the text of the email he had been sent by the Standard in response to his complaint. “Please accept my apologies,” it said. Gilligan made no further appearances on Adam’s thread.
3) Gilligan’s first backfiring attack was against me, on Fletcher’s thread. Fletcher wrote that my blog Mayor and More, which I published independently in parallel with my Guardian work during the London mayoral campaign, “probably did more than any other news outlet to develop the story of the spectacular implosion of the finances of Boris Johnson’s ‘new Routemaster’ bus policy over a number of weeks.”
Don’t be so bashful, Simon: the Dave Hill story about the cost of the Routemaster which you understandably praise actually came from, well, you – two Livingstone campaign press releases on February 29 and March 3. That’s pretty much exactly what I meant when I talked about some City Hall bloggers merely copying other people’s work.
He’s referring to a piece that appeared, not at Mayor and More, but on the Guardian website. His allegation is completely untrue. It is also a smear, maliciously implying that I was a conduit for Livingstone propaganda during the campaign. As I explained on the thread, I obtained estimates about the cost not from Ken Livingstone’s campaign but from Transport for London. I did so because I wanted to test the competing claims the two main candidates were making in press releases and elsewhere.
To cut a long story short, TfL’s figures contradicted both Johnson’s and Livingstone’s on conductors and although they were close to Livingstone’s for the policy as a whole (Johnson had not published a costing of the whole policy at that stage: he later offered a figure that wasn’t far short of Livingstone’s or TfL’s) they were arrived at by different calculations. This didn’t deter Livingstone from claiming that they vindicated him, or Team Boris, anticipating Gilligan, from accusing TfL of generating “Ken-friendly figures.” Both campaigns were therefore guilty of spinning TfL’s figures to suit their own ends, but that is not the issue here.
The issue is that it should have been obvious to Gilligan that my Guardian article was not “from Ken Livingstone press releases.” Why? Perhaps because some of the differences between Livingstone’s figures and TfL’s are set out in that very Guardian article. Perhaps because I critically examined the candidates’ claims here and here and here and elsewhere.
Perhaps because, according to TfL’s press office, it provided Gilligan, at his request, with a copy of the very same “New Routemaster” estimates it had compiled for me. Anyone still not convinced? After I challenged Gilligan he first cited irrelevances in an attempt to prove his point then, ignoring my request that he apologise, tried to change the subject.
What explains Gilligan’s behaviour?
The key point to emerge from the CIF threads episode as a whole is that what remains of the reputation Gilligan gained for fearless, forensic truth-telling when at the BBC is a little further diminished.
We might wonder if even those of his investigations that were valid and important were informed by the same impulse he displays here. We might be tempted to conclude that this is a man whose opinion of himself is so inflated he is unable to acknowledge his own errors even when they are obvious to everybody else.
Add to this his persistent dodging of those pesky questions about sock-puppeting, and you have a flagship journalist of London’s Quality Newspaper whose credibility is unraveling. And he still owes me an apology. Were he to offer one, I would graciously accept. Sadly, I can’t see it happening.
Dave Hill is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a novelist, blogger, journalist, married resident of Hackney in east London and father of six children. His novels are about family life. Also at: Comment is free.
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