Media: Is the News Just a Matter of Opinion? ; Too Often, What Passes for Reporting Is Intended to Discredit Prominent Individuals. the Foreign Office Minister DENIS MACSHANE Warns against Advocacy Journalism

Article excerpt

The must-read for political journalists in the US is the new book by David Brock called Blinded by the Right:The Conscience of an ex- Conservative. Brock was the star of the conservative media in the 1990s for his reports about the White House, claiming endless illegal or corrupt deeds and non-stop abuse of power by the Clintons.

Many of Brock's stories about the Clintons were relayed in Britain by right-wing papers, such as The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator. Now Mr Brock reveals that his stories were lies, half- truths and innuendos designed to destroy Clinton's presidency. The Republican right used journalism to destroy Democrat politicians. Brock was given documents or introduced to "witnesses" who were paid by right-wing powerbrokers, who refused to accept the legitimacy of a non-conservative government. He describes how his copy was carefully sub-edited so that it appeared to be truth-seeking reporting, mixing fact and allegation in easy-to-read narratives.

That the former US president and his wife provided ammunition by their behaviour, decisions or statements for legitimate criticism was not the issue. Brock was the chosen vehicle for the daily discrediting of elected politicians.

Are these techniques now crossing the Atlantic? Traditionally, we have reporters on news pages and commentators on the op-ed pages. Now we can turn to a news page in many of our papers and find opinion-laden articles that tell us what the journalist thinks, rather than facts and quotes attributed to a named source.

As David Brock's book argues, we now have, in addition to reporting journalists and comment journalists, a new third category - advocacy journalists. They are out not to find truth, but to destroy opponents. The complex nuances of grown-up government are too boring for them. They cannot be bothered to report Commons debates or get on-the-record quotes.

The advocacy journalists - right and left - are hostile to a Labour government, old or new. Advocacy journalism now predominates in our tabloids and increasingly in our broadsheets. We do not have a tradition of discussant journalism such as one sees in The New York Times, or in Europe in El Pais or Le Nouvel Observateur. …