A lesson in how tabloid journalism works from Andrew Gilligan

During the London Mayoral elections, the Evening Standard's coverage was so sycophantically fawning over Boris Johnson, and so full of over the top hatred of Ken Livingstone that it was embarrassing to walk past kiosks selling the thing. 'Ken Livingstone bathes in the blood of the people he's deliberately killed with his heartless policies' was one headline. 'Boris Johnson admits: 'I did invent the fluffy kitten' was another.* So one sided was the coverage that the paper started being referred to in some circles as the Evening Boris.

The person responsible as much as anyone else for making the coverage so embarrassingly one sided was Andrew Gilligan. Yes, that Andrew Gilligan. In recent weeks, Gilligan has been getting quite a lot of attention in some of the London blogs for allegedly sockpuppeting.** These accusations prompted Gilligan to windmill his handbag at blogs in his Evening Standard column. I've been reading about the affair on and off over the past couple of weeks, rolling my eyes now and again, but I didn't actually get involved until yesterday. That's when the comments underneath an article about Gilligan on Comment is Free showed him engaging in the sort of behaviour with misquoting I suspect happens in the tabloids all the time, but hadn't really been able to see without full quotes in front of me.

Simon Fletcher's piece covers Gilligan's wild swipes at blogs, causing Gilligan to come out swinging again, both bags ablur in the comments. He attacks the notion that Dave Hill developed the story about how dodgy Boris's figures for the cost of Routemaster buses were - which he did by by getting hold of TfL's own estimates. Gilligan accused Hill of merely getting his info from Livingstone campaign press releases.

This is where it starts to get interesting for people who wonder how tabloids manage to get accused of misquoting people so often. Dave Hill posts this response, which I'm quoting in full:
That is absolutely untrue, Mr Gilligan. My story about the cost of Routemasters was based on figures I obtained from Transport for London after Livingstone and Johnson disagreed about that cost on the Vanessa Feltz radio programme. The Livingstone campaign picked up on it and placed its own interpretation on it after it was published first on my blog then at the Guardian. I look forward to your apology, but I'm not holding my breath.
There's a bit of back and forward about how there were press releases issued by Ken's campaign that Dave Hill had linked to, and it's clear that what Dave Hill rightly wants credit for is obtaining and publishing TfL's figures.

Now, let's see if you can spot what's wrong with Gilligan's later (ahem) "paraphrase" of Dave Hill's comment above:
Dave: it simply isn't right, I'm afraid, for you to say that "the Livingstone campaign picked up on" the Routemaster story "after it was published first on my blog." As I say, it was first published by the Livingstone campaign - on the same day as the Vanessa Feltz broadcast, 27 February. You picked up on them, not the other way round.
Yup. He breaks the quotations to insert the words "the Routemaster story". Words that Dave Hill never used. This makes it look as though he's making a far more grandiose claim than he actually is. It's quite clear from the above comment that he's talking about his use of the TfL figures - and even if it were not, it would be from comments he makes later.

This is why, when I go through tabloid articles and find a series of direct quotes from someone that are broken up by indirect paraphrases, I always say we should be sceptical. It might be that the person quoted said something that might not be interpreted in the way the hack involved wants us to, as with this example. Even in Simon Fletcher's article, Dave Hill wasn't credited with breaking a story about Routemaster costs. He was only ever credited with 'developing' it. Which he did, by obtaining TfL's figures and comparing them. Andrew Gilligan, with his paraphrase, is clearly sexing up what Dave Hill is supposed to be claiming. Which is ironic.

It doesn't end there, unfortunately. Later, Gilligan boasts about how he had an article published about the costs of the Routemaster one day earlier than Hill's. Here's the full comment (sorry):
And at some risk of seeming seriously sad, can I quote some of what I myself wrote on Boris's bus figures -

"His price-tag (of £8 million, for the conductors only) ignores the need to staff a bus for three shifts. That takes you up to about £25 million. And what about the cost of buying the new Routemasters? They're a bit smaller than the bendies they replace, so you'd need about 20 per cent more (not three times as many, as Ken is claiming) for the same work. That probably makes another £100 million or so.

"Ken's claimed figure is still an exaggeration, because the cost of the new buses would be spread over their whole 20-year service. And contrary to his propaganda, there is so much waste in TfL that fares are very unlikely to have to rise to pay for it. But on the Routemaster, the truth is that, possibly for the first time in history, a figure produced by Mr Livingstone might actually be more accurate than the alternatives."

This piece took up a full page, under the headline "There's no need to bend the facts on buses, Boris." And it appeared on March 6th - in other words, the day before your TfL extravagaza you are so proud of.
There are a couple of things wrong here. Gilligan boasts about how his piece took up a full page, as if he had loads of info a day before Hill. He fails to link to it. If he did, readers would easily see that the stuff about Routemasters takes up a mere four paragraphs, more than halfway down in a thirteen paragraph article. He's quoted most of it there. Plus, it isn't based on TfL's figures. The thing Hill is attempting taking credit for.

He also ignores Hill's earlier comment that points out his own article was published on 6 March, but updated on 7 March, so the two came out on the same day.

Adam Bienkov, of Tory Troll fame, has also managed to get a piece on Comment is Free about Gilligan's frontal handbag assault on blogs. In the comments there, Gilligan also appears to display a certain lack of honesty. A user called JMRoss posts about how he received a formal apology from the Standard for being named as a source in a Gilligan article. Gilligan replies:
As for your case, whatever it is, I simply have no recollection. 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,or were ever able to identify anything I wrote that was untrue.
JMRoss subsequently reproduces the apology email. Ah.

And through all this Gilligan never bothers to deny sockpuppeting. He pretends he already has, but he hasn't. He's denied being someone called 'Kennite', and says that Kennite is his partner. But that doesn't mean he's never posted with Kennite's ID - or used any other fake ones.

That's how proper journalism works, folks. Is it any wonder the tabloids are so full of crap?


Tom said...

Another example - he took the following two statements by me, the first from a post, *quoting someone else*:

"as Alex Harrowell says, the overlap between supporting neo-conservatism and the bendy jihad is interestingly close."

...the second in a comment under it:

"My theory is that after Livingstone spotted the US was on the way down and thought London should court the next economic superpowers, people wedded to the US way of politics and money who think we should ride the USA into the ground like Major Kong got worried."

became, after the Gilligan Treatment:

""The overlap between neo-conservatism and the bendy jihad is interestingly close ... my theory is that after [Ken] Livingstone spotted the US was on the way down and thought London should court the next economic superpowers, people wedded to the US way of politics and money got worried.""

Note the handy ellipsis, the removal of the capital letter on 'my' and the removal of the evidence that it wasn't me who said the first bit. Classy.

What's obvious is that when you get Gilligan out from behind the protection of the Standard, he can't operate without incriminating himself. Fish, meet slab.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Thanks for that, Tom. I had realised he'd misquoted you, but hadn't dug up the misquote.

And why haven't I got a link to BorisWatch yet? Fixed that problem now.

Martin said...

Bendy or not, Gilligan is a superstar. This man knows how a shitstorm works and how to turn it to his advantage. He grows on me every time I read more nonsense from his detractors.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Cheers Pogsurf.

Tim said...

Pogsurf, you are the only bendy round here.

Crackers: great site if er somewhat crakers.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Cheers Pogsurf.

Martin said...

Cheers Crackers,

Am I reading the article right, is Dave Hill claiming to publish TfL's figures before they do themselves?

Five Chinese Crackers said...


Five Chinese Crackers said...

I tried to post a similar comment to this about four times last night before giving up when it didn't work. I hope it works this time.

Last night, I rejected a comment from being published on this blog for the first time (I've deleted spam before, but I don't normally have comment moderation on).

I have no problem with negative comments being published - but I don't think this one was anything more than trolling for fun by Martin (above) who I also think is Tim (above) who has a history of trolling with multiple sockpuppets. (More on this over atBloggerheads.

As I said before, I have no problem with people posting negative comments. I just don't like people fucking about and wasting my time - so you're highly unlikely to see any more comments from 'Martin' (or 'Tim' or 'Lobster Blogster' or 'Pogsurf' or whoever Martin decides to be on a given day) here in future.