Anyone wondering how the Maily Telegraph earned its nickname need look no further than the paper’s post Christmas exposé on the alleged costs of protecting former PM Tony Blair. The headline – Tony Blair costs British taxpayers six million a year to protect – sounds like an open and shut case.
However, look beyond the headline and things are less clear cut. We are told that “The former PM is understood to be the most expensive person in the country for the police to guard” (note the less than assertive language), and that “More than 20 officers are now understood to be assigned to protecting Mr Blair” (also less than assertive). We are then told that “It is feared that Mr Blair’s security will become even more costly next year”, introducing, yes, fear. But very little in the way of those pesky things called facts.
And what is the source for the story? As with the Daily Mail, you don’t need to know such things, beyond “Whitehall insiders”, “Whitehall sources”, or the impressive sounding “senior Whitehall source”. These could, of course, be significant sources, but then again, they could just as easily be cleaners and their supervisors (the latter allowing the use of the term “senior”).
The “senior Whitehall source” introduces another Mail staple: Blair’s “private assignments” are not just private assignments, but they are “well paid”. That’s right, he’s getting more than you, and you have to feel envious. This is the way as taught by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, and now it is the way of the Telegraph. In case you aren’t feeling envious enough, the article tells of protecting not just the Blair house, but his “four million pound London home” (getting a house price reference into the article is classic Mail). Again, he’s getting more than you – feel the envy!
And he’s getting more than the current PM – well, perhaps: the article tells that “It is thought that Gordon Brown only has a team of about ten close protection officers”. Hell’s teeth. “It is thought that ... about ten”? Nothing like being bold, assertive and accurate, is there? Again, as with the Daily Mail, you can always make it up as you go along – just make sure the caveats cover your backside.