Hacks and rats

Submitted by Matthew on 27 November, 2013 - 12:16

A decade ago the Scottish Sunday Herald had a circulation of over 60,000. But now it has sunk lower than 25,000. A decade ago Paul Hutcheon was an investigative reporter. But now he just hunts with the pack.

Could the decline in the paper’s circulation be related to the decline in the quality of its journalism?

“Leading Labour MSP Urged to Resign After Taking Part in Unite Demo Outside Director’s House,” read the headline above an article by Hutcheon last Sunday.

Over five weeks after the event, the giant inflatable rat used in a Unite protest outside the house of an Ineos director had made a comeback: “[Drew] Smith was one of 13 people pictured. He was standing next to the rat.”

Hutcheon’s use of the hack-journalist technique of guilt-by-association was positively breathtaking. It ran as follows: the rat was next to Drew Smith who was next to his aide Michael Sharpe who is the son of Cathie Jamieson MP who is part of Ed Balls’s shadow treasury team at Westminster.

However, Smith (sadly) was not actually taking part in the protest. He is chair of the Labour Trade Union Group in Holyrood. The Unite protest coincided with the Dunfermline by-election campaign for the Holyrood seat left vacant after the resignation of the incumbent SNP MSP. Along with two of his aides, Smith happened to be distributing Labour by-election leaflets on the estate where the Unite protest was taking place.

This certainly makes a mockery of the anonymous “senior party source” quoted by Hutcheon: “A trade unionist with any sense would not have gone within a hundred miles of that protest.”

Clearly, there wouldn’t have been much point in distributing leaflets calling for a Labour vote in the Dunfermline by-election over a hundred miles away in Inverness.

The bigger problem with the article is the headline reference to Smith being “urged to resign.” By whom was he being “urged to resign”?

Why, none other than Eric Joyce MP!

That’s the Falkirk MP with the chequered history of drunken brawls in the House of Commons and Edinburgh Airport, dalliances with a 17-year-old schoolgirl, drink-driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test, and record claims for parliamentary expenses.

When it comes to speaking out about parliamentarians who should resign, Joyce clearly commands no small degree of authority on such matters! In a comment unlikely to endear him to local councillors, Joyce said:

“The image of a Labour shadow cabinet member smiling as he takes part in a leverage squad outside someone’s home is thoroughly nauseating. He should resign immediately.”

“The Scottish shadow cabinet doesn’t feel like a serious prospect at the moment. Members are content to operate at the level of the local councillor which some of them remain.”

A non-story about a man who stood next to a giant inflatable rat over five weeks ago?

It’s hardly investigative journalism. In fact, it’s not even news.

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