How Tory bloggers spun Coulson


3:38 pm - July 15th 2009

by Carl Packman    


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There has been an intriguing side-show to Coulsongate / NotW blagging story: the speed at which many Tory bloggers came out to distance themselves from Coulson, to Guido Fawkes who insisted that the Guardian were wasting their time with the whole issue. Yesterday showed that not to be the case at all.

And indeed the affair raises some very important questions about the context of bloggers versus lobby journalists.

There was recently something raised by Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) that I couldn’t help but agree with entirely (a very rare thing indeed); that being the inability of the journalist to really dig deep on certain politicians due to a stranglehold that journos have towards those who may well soon get into power.

Guido highlighted this in a debate he had with the Guardian’s Michael White, and the BBC’s Nick Robinson, also not happy with the short amount of time was given to deliver his main points at the event, he addressed them on CiF.

The quote that I agreed with the most was his attack on White;

… why do you think the influence of blogs has grown? It is because the likes of Michael White have failed to keep sufficient checks on politicians and to hold MPs to account.

Now I wouldn’t have picked out White myself, but given the context I understand the plea. But more generally, there is a strong element of truth concerning what the press can feel unthreatened about releasing, and this sentiment couldn’t have worried me any more than it did when reading Andrew Rawnsley’s bit in the Observer on Sunday, when he noted:

There has been a reluctance among some of the press to really go for the Tories over the phone-hacking scandal, partly because many other newspapers are implicated in the practice as well, and partly for fear of crossing Mr Coulson, who will be a powerful figure at Number 10, with a lot of control over access to stories.

Now of course such reluctance should not be applied to bloggers, who are free of the constraints that newspaper journalists may have, and what with the very many inside tell-tales that Guido knows well, the control over access to stories should not be a concern at all.

However, those avid readers of Bob Piper’s blog might see the twist in this tale: that Guido fell foul of his own view that the blogosphere can conquer the newspaper hack taken party political hostage. He was one of the bloggers that pretended not to have anything to do with Andy Coulson and was quick here and here to spin dubious claims that Coulson was not implicated in the NotW crimes, before the even weaker attempt to seem non-partisan.

Later on in Guido’s article on CiF – mentioned above – he declares:

The years of Labour lies and spin, personified in the power that Damian McBride wielded over a compliant press lobby – now that was corrupting our democracy, the off-the-record smearing, and it was smearing, not briefing, that went on – was out of hand.

But in light of Coulsongate, Guido’s actions have shown that if bloggers have a political axe to grind, then the alternative to lobby journalism can be even more an obscurant of the truth.

The unwritten blackmail noted by Andrew Rawnsley with which Andy Coulson was able to use stopping “some of the press … really go[ing] for the Tories over the phone-hacking scandal” should not deter the power of the internet, but as is shown by the hypocrisy of Guido, the blogosphere is not immune from the problems that come about by who you know.

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About the author
Carl is a regular contributor. He is a policy and research analyst and he blogs at Though Cowards Flinch.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Libertarians ,Media ,Our democracy

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Reader comments


I think you mean “span”.

dubious claims that Coulson was not implicated in the NotW crimes

Regardless of the merits of this piece, which I’m sure will be thoroughly thrashed out in the comments, I’d just urge a tiny bit of caution on the poster, and the site, before saying things like this. British libel laws are pretty wide and very hard hitting. Unless you’re able to prove that he is implicated (which no-one has been so far) you risk laying yourself wide open to an action.

I’m sure that Andy Coulson has bigger fish to fry, but there it is.

But Guido is right in that first post to which you link – Coulson is much more like Campbell than McBride.
Though so far he hasn’t sexed-up any dossiers to take us to war.

And his assessment you link to under “even weaker attempt” seems about right.

Carl – I find it slightly difficult to understand some of your sentences.

” …a stranglehold that journos have towards those who may well soon get into power.” Do you mean the stranglehold that key spin-doctors (such as Campbell or Coulson) have over journalists by being gate-keepers (or potential gate-keepers) controlling access to stories?

” ….there is a strong element of truth concerning what the press can feel unthreatened about releasing.” Do you mean that there is an element of truth in what Guido says: that there are certain things that the press feels uncomfortable about releasing?

“But in light of Coulsongate, Guido’s actions have shown that if bloggers have a political axe to grind, then the alternative to lobby journalism can be even more an obscurant of the truth.” Do you mean that blogging can be subject to the same constraints as lobby journalism, hiding the truth to maintain a source?

However I think that the past of “spin” is “spun”, or am I missing something clever in comment #1?

The fact that Guido et al. want to ignore the Coulson story is meaningless. The whole point of the blogosphere is that it is filled with a multitude of voices and cannot be institutionally or systematically suppressed in the way that, for example, the Westminster lobby can be. If Guido doesn’t cover the story, or dismisses its importance, there is no shortage of other bloggers (not least on this blog) to do it instead.

5 – as whatever it is is still going on, why not go with “are spinning”?

“When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?”

I think the past simple is “span” – eg he span the story
The past participle is “spun” – eg the story was spun by him

So on that basis it should be “span” in the title, though I suspect “spun” might now be becoming more common as the past simple form too…

R- that is absolutely correct.

You’d be amazed though at the amount of times right-wing loonies turn up on left sites which say something mildly critical of the Tories, squealing like stuck pigs that “you never said that when (Prescott/BlairCampbell…. insert your NuLieBore hate figure here) did….. (insert some irrelevant subject to that under discussion in here).”

Er, so now you’re squealing that Guido isn’t criticising Coulson…

“He was one of the bloggers that pretended not to have anything to do with Andy Coulson”

Do you fruits really believe that Andy Coulson and I plot Totty Watch posts? I have never had any communication with him of any kind.

Unlike Derek Draper I think for myself and do whatever I like.

My notes tell me that “span” is archaic if used as the past of “spin”. Probably it fell into disuse because of potential confusion with the other verb “span” (eg the bridges span the river)

I am quite archaic!

Though I like ‘span’ and ‘are spinning’ I’m sticking up for ‘spun’ because I refer to a particular day (9th of July) when many Tory bloggers (including Guido, Dale and Dizzy) spun the Coulson story.

As for you Guido, Dale admitted to having “met him three times and spoken to him a couple of times on the phone”, your claim seems rather unlikely (but much like with Coulson, cannot be proven either way, and I acknowledge this) .Not least because your style of blogging is akin to the NotW’s crass journalism.

Dear oh dear Is anybody really surprised by this?

Unless you are insane you don’t take Guido seriously. He is a sanctimonious hypercritic of the worst kind. From his early claims that only he was honest, and that all politicians were liars and crooks he has now become a fully blown Cameron toady. And as for Ian Dale, you might as well call in to Tory central office and pick up a pamphlet. As far as honest reporting of the Tory party is concerned he is as much use as a chocolate tea pot. For Ian Dale read the Daily Telegraph.

It is a shame that the Mainstream media is copying the American MSM in being concerned with access to politicians. The politicians need the media more than the media need the politicians, and anyway the access you get will always come with strings, and any exclusives will be what the politicians want to get out, so it is a waste of time.

8 years of covering the Bush administration showed how pathetic so called ‘access’ was. A better description was ‘covering up the Bush administration.’ I am sure it will be just the same here with Dave.

16. sevillista

#11

I remember you publishing “Gordon Brown Annual Report” on behalf of Mr Coulson.

Are you seriously saying you got hold of a copy of that in advance of it being published elsewhere without any contact with the author?

#16, This one?

18. sevillista

#17

Yes – that’s it.

So it wasn’t an advance copy then.

The report which is being referred here is the one mentioned on the fourth para. of the link I mentioned #16. On this link, at the bottom of the entry Guido mentions a BBC analysis of the Cameron Report, which was for internal use only. I think sevillista is speculating as to how Guido come into contact with this, especially since the point of the report was “To defeat Gordon Brown”. It advocated that “his opponents should focus on him personally, something that Steve Hilton and CCHQ (prior to the arrival of Andy Coulson) were reluctant to do.” Would I be right in interpreting that sevillista?

21. Charlieman

There are at least three factors that permitted Nick Davies to write the Guardian’s articles so well:

1. Information exposed in the prosecution of NOTW journalist and “investigators” where voice mail boxes were accessed.

2. A journalist’s insider knowledge of how News International works and the relationships between employees and external agents.

3. The ability to apply knowledge from 1 and 2 to ask the right questions under Freedom of Information.

Factor 1 is available to all of us, although you’d need to do a lot of homework. Factors 2 and 3 are what differentiates Davies from most bloggers.

The silence of Staines and other right wing bloggers on the Coulson/NOTW story is partly down to lack of information; given the absence of a source, they have nothing to contribute and the story, which potentially has depth, distracts from their own tittle tattle. Secondly, it is in their interest to disparage newspapers, because they are competing for the same headlines and pot of advertising income.

Staines, Dale, Montgomerie et al are very happy to write newspaper comment pieces for the writer’s fee and for the promotion of their sites. I am not sure what the newspaper gets from these recycled commentaries apart from the perceived glory about being connected with “the blogosphere”.

Owing to lack of sources, left wing bloggers haven’t contributed significantly either. A notable exception is John Leyden at The Register who has asked the right questions about data protection.

Do you fruits really believe that Andy Coulson and I plot Totty Watch posts? I have never had any communication with him of any kind.

This rubbish isn’t really going to wash as the Tories get into power is it Paul?

Your bias is clear to see – it gets exposed everytme you make excuses for the Tories on things like this.

23. Charlieman

Staines: “Do you fruits really believe that…”

Homophobic?

I hate the Labour Party and want to see it destroyed. And?

We’ll see who is more effective against the next government.

#16 is typical paranoid rubbish:

“I remember you publishing “Gordon Brown Annual Report” on behalf of Mr Coulson.
Are you seriously saying you got hold of a copy of that in advance of it being published elsewhere without any contact with the author?”

In reality, downloaded the press briefing from the website. Didn’t even ask a by your leave. CCHQ had recycled loads of my material and didn’t even credit me. Ungrateful Chap that Coulson.

Wag. Tail. Dog. Arrange in the correct order.

“I hate the Labour Party and want to see it destroyed”

Ah, so it is only the Labour party now. All your bullshit about ALL politicians being no good has changed.

Face facts Guido, you are just as weasel like as the politicians you claim to hate.

Actually it is just a question of priorities.

Yeah that’s ok – we know what your priorities and your friends are. We’re just pointing that out.

Why you getting so defensive? Chill out man!

“We’ll see who is more effective against the next government.”

Lol. The Labour party were actually acting as a Tory party but aaanyways, lets pretend that ‘New’ Labour was really about ‘society’ etc etc.

Anyways, we need the clueless Tory party with their neo-con views to come into power create a shock awe kind of disaster, then people can finally get it through their dense and complacents asses that the Tory party should be the minority party as it has NO interest at all in how a realistic society should be governed.

Just out of interest Guido, where are your priorities on the BNP?

And I suppose, as it was questioned earlier, if a Tory government were to win come next elections, would your priorities still be with anti-politicians in general, even if that meant busting the heads of mates? Blogs kind of lend themselves to bashing incumbents, will yours follow suit? Because, as a wild guess and prediction, I’d be tempted to say probably not.

30. Guido Fawkes

Do you know Sunny? I think you might imagine you do. However if you add up all the rubbish written on LC about me all it amounts to is a waste of pixels, Seriously read that article again and consider just how moonbatty it is if the fundamental premise is false. And false it is.

However if you add up all the rubbish written on LC about me all it amounts to is a waste of pixels

As you may imagine, I would say the same about the pictures and words written about me on your site.
Anyway, you poor dear – didn’t know you’d get so upset when someone pointed out how partisan you’re becoming these days. I thought your prided yourself on it.

I’d say the fundamental premise of my entry is that blogs have a certain freedom that lobby journalists don’t, but that a symptom of that freedom is that bloggers are held captive to other constraints, such as knowing someone at the centre of attention. If a document drawn up tomorrow told me everything I thought was wrong, my theoretical premise would still remain true; a call to arms for unrestrained blogging!

Neither do I know, or imagine I know Sunny, I’ve only spoken to him in short emails a couple of times, and I’ve certainly never met him. End quote.

Why do you hate the Labour party so, Paul? Is it you hate New Labour or Labour? How can you base your hatred of the Labour party on a party that is, in effect, a Tory party, New Labour, after all New Labour took on Thatcherite policies and wrapped them in scarlet cloth – wouldn’t you hate the Tory party, too?

I am sure ‘Call me Dave’ will be offering Guido a job in his administration sooner or later. He can be Dave’s internet expert or something.

A knighthood is assured for services to the Conservative party. I wonder if you will wear a disguise when you go to receive it, knowing how you like to keep a low profile.

“Why Guido and Dale should be Ignored, Volume 325423.”

But why speculate?

The boy king will be in power in 12 months’ time and we’ll see how he (Guido that is) performs, won’t we?

Carl writes “I’d say the fundamental premise of my entry is that blogs have a certain freedom that lobby journalists don’t, but that a symptom of that freedom is that bloggers are held captive to other constraints, such as knowing someone at the centre of attention.” You concluded your piece with as “shown by the hypocrisy of Guido, the blogosphere is not immune from the problems that come about by who you know.”

The only problem with your analysis is the fundamental premise as defined by you. Since I don’t know Andy Coulson, have never spoken with him, never had a drink with him, never emailed him and never had my voicemail hacked by him, I can hardly be constrained by a non-existent relationship.

This “hypocritical” relationship only exists in your imagination.

Guido, your hypocrisy was to show, in spite of what you said about lobby journalists, that bloggers are constrained too – otherwise you would have speculated on what everyone else was thinking, i.e. surely Andy Coulson as editor knew of the illegal goings-on at NotW, but instead you claimed the whole thing was politically motivated by the Guardian – and that they were going on about it too much.

In fact, the efforts you and the other Tory bloggers went to in order to try and blame the Guardian for overcooking this scandal, shows that there is a worse problem than the strategic quietness of lobby journos – as pointed out by Andrew Rawnsley, referred to in my entry above. I note that I cannot prove that you know Coulson, but given your loyalty to him on your blog (and your bubblegum-politics similarities) I, and others, do smell a rat.

That is not what your article said. The premise of your article was just wrong as you now concede by trying to move the goalposts.. You said I was constrained by knowing Coulson.

I don’t know him. Therefore the charge of hypocrisy on that basis is false.

Now if you want to disagree with me about the Guardian that is entirely different. But it isn’t hypocrisy, it is a difference of opinion.

Hm, I see you guys continue to successfully not waste your precious time reading/thinking/writing/talking about Guido and Iain Dale, as you repeatedly injunct one another to do.

There are several psychological terms for what goes on on this blog sometimes.

Well no Guido, my charge was about the logic of the blog, and how I agreed with your article in CiF and that you persistently turn your back on that premise. But the reason I’m moving the argument on is because we can’t maintain a dialogue with me saying yes you do know him, and you saying you don’t, I’m suggesting that despite I cannot prove it, it seems utterly dubious that a) you defended him against all odds, since I still honestly believe he must have known about the illegal phone-tapping, how could he not, the press complaint’s excuses seem too vague and yet that’s Coulson’s greatest defence, and b) its not paranoid to say that you were in his pockets, so to speak, when he moved to CCHQ, to me it seems not only unlikely that these two elements don’t marry up, but also that this wouldn’t have spurred on some sort of dialogue – one which could influence the way you covered the issue around the time he looked at his most suspect, a time incidentally when Tory bloggers bent over backards to say they didn’t know him, like a group of common criminals claiming to not know their getaway driver.

And if anything, I’m not moving the goalposts, I’m simply buying myself a place in this Westminster drink mashup as the kids say these days!!

That seems a long-winded way of calling me a liar.

The reason I welcomed Coulson is because Steve Hilton’s touch feely stuff was all very well, but those posh boys and girls at CCHQ needed an Essex boy to give Labour a good kicking. I actually have spelt out what I thought needed to be done at length in January 08. Coulson was the one to do it:

Finishing the Project : Making 2008 Dangerous for Brown
http://order-order.com/2008/01/06/making-2008-dangerous-for-brown/

Incidentally I like and defend Kelvin MacKenzie – I don’t recall having met him either.

If you want to believe I’m somebody’s puppet suit yourself. If you knew me you’d know the idea that I could be controlled is laughable, I don’t even have self-control. 😉

I’m off on my holidays. Bye.

Thank you, Mr Staines, for your thoughtful political analysis!

#I didn’t get that invite in the end…


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article: How Tory bloggers spun Coulson http://bit.ly/tQvgq

  2. Raincoat Optimism

    pickled politics entry on nu BNP report has an advert giving advice on how to whiten skin!? Bit disconcerting. btw http://tinyurl.com/mlkm9b

  3. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article: How Tory bloggers spun Coulson http://bit.ly/tQvgq

  4. How Tory bloggers spun Coulson « Carl Packman

    […] There has been an intriguing side-show to Coulsongate / NotW blagging story: the speed at which many Tory bloggers came out to distance themselves from Coulson, to Guido Fawkes who insisted that the Guardian were wasting their time with the whole issue. Yesterday showed that not to be the case at all. (Continue) […]

  5. Raincoat Optimism

    As I said last yr http://bit.ly/bw5Zg7 on @libcon something fishy about how speedy rightblogs were 2 defend – well, they are wrong, it seems

  6. Raincoat Optimism

    A piece of mine from last year on #coulsongate http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/07/15/how-tory-bloggers-spun-coulson/

  7. Raincoat Optimism

    …and #couslon / #dispatches read my article http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/07/15/how-tory-bloggers-spun-coulson/

  8. The Third Estate

    RT @CarlRaincoat: A piece of mine from last year on #coulsongate http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/07/15/how-tory-bloggers-spun-coulson/

  9. Derek Thomas

    RT @CarlRaincoat: …and #couslon / #dispatches read my article http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/07/15/how-tory-bloggers-spun-coulson/

  10. Brian O'Rourke

    RT @CarlRaincoat: …and #couslon / #dispatches read my article http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/07/15/how-tory-bloggers-spun-coulson/





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