A couple of months ago the Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared on Andrew Marr's Sunday morning BBC show to discuss issues arising from the Labour Party Conference. Marr infamously asked the PM about his health and, in particular, whether he was taking any medication. His justification for what many considered a rude and intrusive question was that "rumours" were circulating about the matter. It was out there. It was therefore, in Marr's words "A fair question". Those rumours came from the Guido Fawkes's blog, but Marr didn't say that on air. Suggestions that the PM was on medication are categorically denied and Brown dealt with the issue with dignity.
I recount this because it is just one example of the growing trend of mainstream media taking its agenda from the blogosphere. Nearly half the MPs at Westminster read Guido each day, despite the fact that his manifesto promises: "To make mischief at the expense of politicians and for the author's self-gratification...to create a more fun, gossipy and acerbic anti-politics form of commentary." Fawkes adds that he "doesn't believe in impartiality." That must be why he uses phrases such as "loonier than ever" when discussing the PM.
Fawkes broke the story of John Prescott's mistress in 2006 before the newspapers and television gleefully picked it up. Bizarrely, it was also Fawkes who outed Damian McBride, the Downing Street aide caught plotting a smear campaign against Tory politicians. Parliamentary lobby jourrnalists respect Fawkes and call him regularly. He is non-aligned - though with a libertarian, right leaning past - but his sources are people from all the political parties who, for whatever reason, wish to undermine colleagues as well as opponents. Often, that involves spreading sexual tittle tattle. Let's not forget that it was a very early version of the blog, The Drudge Report, that exposed the Monica Lewinsky affair with President Bill Clinton. The world's media didn't turn its back on that piece of scurrilous gossip either, as I recall...
The fact that Guido Fawkes is the London establishment's favourite blogger should be kept in mind in the overheated discussion around the Scottish blogs which so upset the delicate sensibilities of politicians yesterday. Given that Wardog was not a political party member, and actually worked as an architect, it seems strange that he should have been targetted (however offensive his language). The Universality of Cheese was different in that it was run by an SNP party worker, albeit a junior one based in rural Dumfriesshire who was acting alone. It is wrong to try to undermine political opponents by making allegations about their sex lives and not something I would write about or commission stories on. But politicians and their aides do gossip to journalists, plant unattributable stories etc, some of which end up in the public realm..so perhaps a little less hypocrisy is in order.
As for the mainstream media - given the challenges to our industry, should we not be attempting to put clear blue cyberspace between ourselves and the amateurs? After all, what does professionally produced, paid for content have to recommend it over the better written parts of the blogosphere, other than trustworthiness ? Either that or we just admit there is a place for bloggers and that we sometimes find them quite useful. Just look at the shenanigans at Tiger Woods' house over the weekend. They were reported by TMZ, the website that broke the story of Michael Jackson's death. The rest of the media immediately followed these up...
I mentioned in my previous post that political bloggers continue the 18th century tradition of anonymous pamphleteering. Since then I've come across this compelling piece of brain food by George Orwell, written back in the 1930s. Substitute pamphlet for blog and it could have been posted yesterday.
"The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive or seditious."