There is, as we’ve previously noted, very little actual news to be found in the Alex Salmond/Rupert Murdoch story that’s got the Scottish media on a full-scale SHOCK HORROR! war footing this week. These are the only actual facts involved in the furore:
1. Murdoch’s papers, having (in Murdoch’s words) “declared war” on Labour, switched their backing to the parties most likely to defeat them north and south of the border in the general elections of 2010 and 2011. Both parties concerned, the SNP and the Conservatives, duly won their respective elections.
2. The Scottish Government decided to back News International’s bid for control of BSkyB, on the grounds that the company was a major employer in Scotland and that such a move may well bring a significant number of jobs to Scotland. It signalled its willingness to express this support to the UK Government, though having no leverage or influence over the matter. In the event, the support was never expressed, as the UK Government decided to clear the bid anyway.
3. James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and Alex Salmond all unequivocally and categorically deny that any connection between the two matters was ever raised or discussed by either of the parties involved, and nobody has produced or even suggested the existence of any evidence contradicting these denials.
And that’s it. The Scottish Government took a position entirely within its normal and proper powers with regard to a business matter, and News International’s publications exercised their free democratic right to endorse whichever political party they chose to, just as they’d done within the space of the previous three years for both the Conservatives and Labour. It’s not exactly “hold the front page” stuff.
Yet in the space of barely over 24 hours, the Guardian has published not one, not two, not three and not four, but FIVE near-identical retreads of the story, with different titles but each containing almost all of the same content. All are still present on the paper’s website, and you can read them all here:
Alex Salmond ‘offered to help BSkyB bid and asked for support from Sun’
(Tues 24th, 5.47pm, by David Leigh)
Alex Salmond looked for Sun’s support
(Tues 24th, 8.07pm, by Severin Carrell and David Leigh)
Alex Salmond ties to Murdoch revealed
(Wed 25th, 12.08am, by Severin Carrell)
Alex Salmond admits he planned to lobby Jeremy Hunt over BSkyB
(Wed 25th, 4.07pm, by Severin Carrell)
Leveson inquiry: Rupert Murdoch attracted by Scottish independence
(Wed 25th, 10.29pm, by Severin Carrell)
Four of the five were penned by the paper’s Scotland correspondent Severin Carrell, who also found himself intrigued by Alex Salmond’s withdrawal from an edition of Question Time scheduled for the Thursday evening. He broke the news on his Twitter account, by retweeting a post from Scottish Labour staffer Rami Okasha:
“RT @ramiokasha: BREAKING – I am hearing that Alex Salmond has pulled out of his appearance on #BBCQT tomorrow night #leveson” (2.32pm)
40 minutes later, a sceptical-sounding Carrell reported the SNP’s version of events.
“#salmond’s office deny he pulled out from #BBCQT re #leveson. Was never agreed. He’s “attending a funeral following a family bereavement”" (3.11pm)
The use of quotation marks to seemingly imply doubt led to several Twitter users confirming that there had indeed been a tragic loss, but Carrell’s journalistic nose for scandal wanted more before it would stop sniffing:
“@JohnThomasMadde any idea which family member?” (6.53pm)
As several more people expressed their distaste at this intrusive snooping, Carrell finally relented on his dogged pursuit of the bereaved family.
“condolences to @AlexSalmondMSP and his family for his and their loss” (9.10pm)
And the unseemly episode finally drew to a close, after almost seven hours.
Rami Okasha, it should perhaps be noted in passing, has not apologised for the implication – which had been eagerly picked up and gleefully repeated by countless Labour activists on social media and elsewhere – that Salmond was simply running scared from Question Time, and (unlike Carrell) has not expressed any condolences to the family for their loss or any regret for any upset caused to them by his actions. We hesitate to speculate on the likely media reaction had an SNP staff member made similar insinuations or sought to create political capital out of, for example, the death of veteran Labour figure Janey Buchan.
But the Guardian’s five slight variants of the same story – most of them repeating the same facts, quotes and attacks from the Scottish opposition parties – are the more remarkable phenomenon. The newspaper’s normal practice where a story develops over time is to insert annotated edits into the original piece, so that readers arriving late at the page, perhaps via external links, are not left with an outdated and misleading picture. But here the originals remain intact and unaltered – and none of them allow reader comments, so corrections can’t even be made below the line.
It is, of course, hardly surprising that competing media organisations are keen to attack Murdoch and Unionist journalists and editors are keen to attack Salmond. But running the same story FIVE separate times in a single day is unusual even by those standards. We’re taking bets on whether it will appear again in the coming days – and if it does, we’re pretty sure we know whose name will be on the byline.