For many pundits observing this year’s Labour Party Conference in Brighton, and for the Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff in particular, one story has come to encapsulate the divisive and aggressive nature of politics in the social media age - that BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg has, reportedly, had to hire a bodyguard. This, we are told, is as a result of threats made against her by unidentified Rotten Lefties (tm).
We then saw images of Ms Kuenssberg in close proximity to a man described as an “ex-soldier” who works in a security role at the BBC. This was held to confirm the story. But then, reports came in that she had been seen outside the Conference venue alone, or if in the company of others, none of the others was the alleged bodyguard.
David Wooding - down to the usual level of Murdoch reliability
Now, none of what follows excuses or otherwise defends threatening behaviour by any individual or group against anyone else. What this post is trying to find out is whether the original story was reliable - or, indeed, whether it has been independently stood up by anyone else, given that the BBC, understandably, declines to comment on such matters.
So let’s start at the very beginning, as it’s a very good place to start. The claim was made in the Sunday edition of the Murdoch Sun by its political editor David Wooding. His source for the headline “BBC hires bodyguards to protect Laura Kuenssberg at Labour conference after leftie threats”, and claiming “The Beeb is insisting she must have personal protection both inside and out of the secure zone at the four-day Brighton rally”?
Wooding’s “source”, such as it is, is the old Sun favourite, “an insider”. “An insider said: ‘We take the safety of our staff extremely seriously. Laura is a well-known public figure. She and her team will be covering events with big crowds where there can be hostility, so we want to ensure adequate precautions are taken’”. An anonymous single source.
This is remarkably similar to the claim made by Charles Moore in the Spectator about Ms Kuenssberg’s reporting of June’s General Election, where he told “the BBC never reported that Kuenssberg was so badly threatened online by Corbyn supporters that she was given personal protection”. That was an anonymous single source, too.
Some who are attending Conference were not convinced by the bodyguard claim. Seema Chandwani was one of them: “I saw her outside The Grand hotel talking to Seema Malhotra, looked like she was on her own”. A Tweeter called Julie was another: “I saw her outside with no bodyguards either. Was tempted to photo bomb her broadcast though!”
Pamela Fitzpatrick observed “What rubbish. I saw her happily walking along the street today chatting. No body guards & no one bothered her”. Dan O’Connell replied to her “Saw her yesterday in the centre on her own ... thought I was imagining things glad someone else saw her on her own as well”. And Mrs Angry of Broken Barnet fame added “She was with him in the London room yesterday chatting casually. He seemed like a media guy”.
All of which at least suggests that someone in our free and fearless press might have been best advised second sourcing a story from a less than totally reliable source, rather than taking it as data and resorting to reams of why-oh-why comment. After all, isn’t journalism what journalists are supposed to be about first and foremost? Just a thought.