John Prescott’s spat with Sunday Times underlines extent of made up anonymous quotes in papers
Posted on 13 June 2011 | 8:06am
Good to see that John Prescott has lost none of his old fire, and none of his new ability to use social media to get heard.
His extraction via twitter of an apology from the Sunday Times over a quote, which he rightly says was used to justify the paper’s headline about ‘big beasts’ mauling Ed Miliband, was pretty instant.
The paper’s claim that this was all down to a production error was as believable as many of the stories which appear in the Sunday papers.
And the episode is a good opportunity for me to remind you of something I have said on here before – that most anonymous quotes in newspapers, particularly at the weekends, are made up.
The current spate of anti-Ed Miliband stories is fertile ground for the ‘a friend said’, ‘a colleague said’, ‘a former friend/colleague said’, ‘a senior (never junior) source said’ variety of ‘journalism.’ Have you noticed how the anonymous sources always speak in the style of the paper, how the broadsheet anonymous quotes are just that little bit longer than the tabloids?
The current game is to get a few anonymous quotes on the boil re Ed, then ask a few rentaquote types on to give them credibility. So step forward Diane Abbott yesterday suggesting (now on the record) some Blairite plot to undermine Ed. I think if there was a Blairite plot, I would have an inkling of it. There isn’t.
All that is happening is that the papers are going through one of their mini frenzy periods re the Labour leader. They come, they go (the frenzies I mean before anyone suggests I am suggesting Ed should go.)
Of course there is and always has been a role for anonymous quotes in journalism. But whereas it used to be that the balance of probability was that they were genuine, I think these days the balance of probability is that they are not. This is actually another problem for the press and its credibility, about which it seems to want to do little to redress as it continues its hurtle towards increased irrelevance.
As a senior editor told me recently … ‘I fear we’re fucked.’ (Well not exactly, but hey it fits with the piece.)