Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just Ask the Question


Yes – Because it’s Happening Now. 

By Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret, October 14, 2012:  

“Everybody would say, ‘what evidence have you got?’ I would say, ‘well I don’t have enough evidence to ever prove to anyone that he’s guilty…I just feel that I have huge responsibility, a huge need, to go and ask a lot of questions’.”

David Walsh, the journalist who, in 1999, first questioned Lance Armstrong’s remarkable performance in the Tour de France.

At a moment when the BBC is being forced to confront the toxicity of its intrinsically compromised “networked” and “club-like” nature – in which uncomfortable facts can be hidden in plain sight if that’s what suits a number of people – I was most interested to read a parallel story; one which has echoes of the BBC’s omerta.
On the 11th October, the Press Gazette carried an interview with sports journalist David Walsh, who was the first person to publicly question the plausibility of the startling performance of cyclist Lance Armstrong. What struck me most about Walsh’s story was not so much that he was a person who walked a lonely and demanding path, against the groupthink of the day (there are always a few) but, rather, his grounds for doing so.

He wasn’t leaked dynamite information – he didn’t obtain access to secret medical reports – he had no “deep-throat” source back then, in 1999. Instead, he coolly observed what he was witnessing – and asked himself the plain and obvious question: “is this plausible?”
He didn’t think so. Following Armstrong’s victory in the 1999 Tour, Walsh wrote “This afternoon I will be keeping my arms by my side because I’m not sure this is something we should be applauding.” His only ground for writing that provocative opinion in the Sunday Times, was his intuition for the plausible.

Walsh incurred widespread damnation for his comments. But as he said in the Press Gazette article, “Everybody would say, ‘what evidence have you got?’ I would say, ‘well I don’t have enough evidence to ever prove to anyone that he’s guilty…I just feel that I have huge responsibility, a huge need, to go and ask a lot of questions’.”
And David Walsh carried on doing that thing which is actually surprisingly rare amongst the journalistic profession – he went to his subject – and simply asked the obvious questions.

Lance Armstrong invited Walsh to interview him in 2001; “He rang me because he knew I was asking a lot of questions and he thought that if I come along, and he’s really nice to me, and he gives me a one-on-one interview, I’ll be as happy as every other journalist and I’ll become his friend,” Walsh says.
“I didn’t feel any desire to be his friend because I had a sense of what he was like, and I felt there were lots of questions that needed answering.”

Walsh’s first words to Armstrong when he arrived at the hotel were: “I don’t believe you’re clean, but this is why I’m here, because I have questions. But the only questions I want to ask you are about doping. I won’t be asking you one question about cycling outside of the context of doping.”
David Walsh had those suspicions – and he simply went, and bluntly asked the obvious questions. And carried on asking them. And he was right.

Now that so many people in the BBC are mumbling about how the conduct of Jimmy Savile was so widely suspected – and that there were so many rumours – and, indeed, actual victims to be spoken with, as we now know – why did no BBC journalists go and ask – and persist in asking – the plain and obvious questions of Jimmy Savile – and ask the same obvious questions of those who had employed Savile, and those who persisted in enabling him to be around children?
What is it – about that simple foundation-stone of journalism – just asking the damn question – that is so difficult for 99% of today’s journalists?

Well, as an example of the modern phenomena that so increasingly threatens the entire relevancy of traditional hacks – a citizen’s media journalist – I am going to ask some damn questions.
Some obvious questions – arising out of things that sit in plain sight, yet which go unremarked, uninterrogated.

For example – why are BBC journalists still – this very day – silently permitting the scandalous and corrupt concealment of decades of child-abuse to go unquestioned?
What are their motivations – their reasons – for doing that?

Could it be - like the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong – the most plain and obvious explanation?
That corruption is widespread amongst BBC staffers?

Indeed – I’m asking - I’m pointing at the elephant in the room – and asking the question: “is, in fact, corruption endemic in British journalism?”
That is my gut-instinct – just as Walsh had his about Armstrong.

Gaby Hinsliff, former Political Editor of the Observer, wrote in a tweet at 1.37 on Friday 12th October, “Whatever failings of BBC management, BBC journalists are doing an exemplary, unflinching job of reporting Savile case.”

Well – now that it is safe and undemanding to do so – maybe a number of BBC hacks are reporting the sordid details of Savile’s conduct. But are they asking THE important – the plain and obvious questions, a la David Walsh?
Are they questioning the very “culture” of the BBC as a traditional institution – and all the baggage that brings?

Are they asking – “is corruption and concealment a common currency in the BBC?”
Or – “why has the BBC played the role it has, in so strongly assisting the Jersey establishment to cover-up child abuse – including abuse by Savile?”

Well, let’s hope one or two them might be planning to do that, though I haven’t yet seen any sign of it. And to help any budding David Walshes in the BBC – I’m going to assist, by laying out some of the stark and extraordinary matters that require – that demand - questions.
And the failure of the BBC to deal competently or honestly with current child-abuse scandals in Jersey is one of those matters that demands interrogation. Consider yourself to be a serious and ethical BBC journalist? Then come to Jersey – and ask the damn questions of the BBC management and staff here.

The plain and obvious questions.
In the previous posting – I wrote of the “currency of concealment” in respect of child-abuse.

But the currency of concealment applies to most walks of life – most situations. Let’s face it – knowing stuff – embarrassing stuff – or problematic stuff – about people – having done them favours, or they having done you favours, by keeping schtum about certain matters – and helping each other up the career ladder, is how influence is peddled in Britain; it is how the nation “networks” – and, frankly, it has been for hundreds of years. Corruption, and the concealment of corruption, is endemic in the UK.
And in so many ways – the way the traditional media has worked, is simply a giant, technicolor, unsubtle cartoon version of that workaday custom – that way of “doing business”.

Don’t take my word for it. The journalist who broke the phone-hacking scandal, Nick Davies, said at the Leveson inquiry, “journalism doesn't begin with checking facts, it's about selective decisions on what to cover”.
That’s as good a one-sentence description of how journalism works as you will ever find.

Here’s something I noticed, when my career was in politics; journalists look down on politicians with contempt. And, in most cases, you couldn’t blame them. But lacking in the perspective of those journalists, is the realisation that they too float down the same gutter, perhaps clinging to a fractionally more elevated turd. And maybe not even that.
The blunt truth is that most journalists are lazy, uncourageous and useless. 95% of them are unspeakably crap – yet without even in mitigation, the self-acceptance that you might find amongst most politicians. The smug self-regard of broadcast journalists in particular is a revolting wonder to behold when you have the misfortune of attempting to work closely with them. 

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