The Mail on Sunday paid - probably a significant amount of money - to serialise it. The Murdoch Times gave its author a platform to pontificate on the shortcomings of the Labour leader. Many reviewers have heaped praise upon it. But when one right-leaning journalist subjected Tom Bower’s unauthorised biography of Jeremy Corbyn to a little basic fact checking, it was finally exposed as a sham, a worthless pack of lies.
Tom Bower - finally exposed as a propagandist
That fact checking was performed by Peter Oborne, one of the last truly Old School practitioners of journalism. He does not hide his Tory sympathies. But he puts research and accuracy before mere politics. His analysis of the Bower book is therefore that much more damning. His conclusion? “It's not just intellectually dishonest, it is a farrago of falsehood and insinuation”. One episode recounted by that book shows why.
Peter Oborne - doing some basic research
As Oborne tells, “Bower makes much of a confrontation between Labour activist Marc Wadsworth and Labour MP Ruth Smeeth at the launch for Shami Chakrabarti’s report on anti-semitism in June 2016. He writes that ‘Wadsworth snapped at her that not only was she “working hand-in-hand” with the right-wing media by speaking to the journalist, but she was also a Jew’”. And as he points out, there is a problem with Bower’s account.
“The brief incident is recorded on video. I have examined this video. Nowhere in the footage does Wadsworth say that Smeeth is Jewish. I spoke to two eyewitnesses to this event, both of whom confirmed to me that at no point did Wadsworth say that Smeeth was Jewish”. I’ll go further: Wadsworth did not know at the time that Ms Smeeth was Jewish. He therefore could not have made the remark Bower attributes to him.
As Oborne notes in the introduction to his demolition, “Those of us who report on politics are at liberty to express, within limits, whatever opinions we like. These limits include an obligation to observe standards. We should strive to be accurate. We can make strong arguments but ought not to distort the truth or suppress relevant information to make our point … Writer Tom Bower fails catastrophically to meet these standards”.
The response to Oborne’s piece has shocked even those who support Corbyn, one of whom responded “At last a journo with some integrity applying some rigour to their analysis. Basic fact checking too. Proper journalism”. Another observed “‘An Ugly Hatchet Job’ Topping Times Best Sellers”. Simon Maginn was “Shocked to read @OborneTweets's brilliant account of Tom Bower's book about Corbyn … Journalists who've praised this book: you're a conspiracy of liars”. And former Corbyn aide Steve Howell had more.
“[Oborne] asks: ‘Is there something rotten in British media discourse which allows Bower to get away with this?’ No prizes for the right answer”. Exactly. That part of the press which fears the idea of a Corbyn Government - along with Leveson Part 2, remember - wanted a hatchet job. The Rothermere press serialised it. The Murdoch mafiosi made sure it was published and promoted. Bower was then given airtime by broadcasters.
Once again, we see the willingness to write the desired headline, and then select the facts to fit it - and, along the way, invent a few more where needed. It is the logical conclusion of the trend highlighted by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News. But in book form.
Will those who praised Bower’s book now reconsider? Don’t bet on it.
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