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Only a passing reference to pigs

25 September 2015

Surprise splash: The Guardian on Thursday of last week

Surprise splash: The Guardian on Thursday of last week

I AM not quite sure why The Guardian splashed on the reorganisation of the Anglican Communion. I’m not complaining, but it had seemed a story that was going to be hard to get into any paper. After all, the specialists had been describing rather than merely predicting schism since 2003 or thereabouts.

Yet still the belief persists that there was such a thing as “the Anglican Church” which is sufficiently well-defined to break up. And, once launched, the story rolled and rolled, until the news cycle moved on to other mythical beasts, like David Cameron’s pig.


THE pig story made a demonstration of all that is most depressing about journalism. The first most obvious thing is that it is unforgettable. Rather like the story that The News of the World erased messages from Milly Dowler’s voicemail, it dramatises exactly the behaviour we expect from the villains involved. Only slightly less obvious is that it’s almost certainly false, or, as one of the authors said on television, “people may think it’s just possible it’s true.”

The given sources — an MP anonymous to the reader who refers to evidence supposedly held by a third party, who seems to be unknown to the authors of the book — would never stand a moment’s investigation from a libel lawyer, or even an editor.

And that leads to the gloomiest reflection. Not only is this book being published as an act of premeditated political revenge: it is the premeditated political revenge of a man able to afford expensive libel lawyers. I find it hard to believe the Daily Mail would have published this without some kind of indemnity in case the Prime Minister sued.

Of course, it has long been known that great money can not only suppress the truth but broadcast lies as well.

Claud Cockburn, one of the greatest journalists of the 20th century, once defined the trade as a mixture between entertainment and advertising. All you had to do to succeed, he said, was to decide who you were trying to entertain and what cause you were advertising. Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott, who wrote the book about Cameron, have succeeded wonderfully in both aims.


THE GUARDIAN has finally recovered from the traumatic experience of its last religious correspondent and appointed Harriet Sherwood to the post. She is extremely experienced, having worked most recently as foreign editor and Jerusalem correspondent.

Let’s hope this is the start of a trend. It really was rather embarrassingly ignorant of The Times to announce that the reorganisation — or rather disorganisation — of the Anglican Communion was going to be “the biggest crisis in the Church since Darwin developed his theory of evolution”.

This will disturb educated readers and confuse the great masses, who have been told for decades that all Anglican crises are the biggest since the Reformation.


THERE was a lot of good, serious, straight reporting on the Pope’s visit to the United States, but the best of the offbeat ones came in The New York Times, which ran a piece on the Google queries involving God. It turns out that, when Americans ask Google “Why did God make me . . ?” they most often complete the sentence with “ugly”; but they also wish to know why God has made them gay, black, short, stupid, and fat. These questions cast some light on the popularity of celebrity journalism, since no one there is famous for being short, stupid, ugly, or fat.

None of these questions was as popular as “Who created God?”, by the way. So there is reason for theologians, as well as honest journalists, to despair.


THERE are other ways in which news is made. I had a fascinating glimpse of the machinery at Lambeth Palace on Saturday afternoon when the phone rang and a woman said: “Is that Andrew Brown? This is Kay Brock, at Lambeth.”

Now, the Lambeth chief of staff is a woman who never, ever speaks to journalists, except the one she is married to. So I was a bit bewildered. But I am undoubtedly Andrew Brown; so I said “Yes. What can I do for you?”

The conversation went something like this:

“We need to talk about The Sunday Times and the refugee family in the Palace.”

“Uh? Can you say that again? The reception isn’t very good.”

“Where are you?”

“Outside St Martin-in-the-Fields.”

“Are you in church?”

“No. I just came to town for the afternoon.”

“Are you Andrew Brown from the Church Commissioners?”

“No. I’m Andrew Brown from The Guardian.”


Despite my assuring her that she could freely tell me everything she would have shared with the Commissioners, and giving her my full permission to tell the Commissioners everything she would share with The Guardian (nothing whatsoever), the conversation failed quite quickly after that.

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