An article by Nick Cohen in the Spectator last night fairly had social media ablaze with a heady brew of anger and mockery.
It’s the most extraordinary outpouring of deranged, spittle-flecked arsewash we’ve seen outside of a Daily Express comment thread in a very considerable time, and it merits attention solely because we think it might have broken a world record for the number of empirical falsehoods contained in an article in a respectable media outlet.
Get your clickers out, readers. You’re going to need a fast trigger finger.
We’ll let the headline slide, because while it implies, ludicrously, that press censorship has only just begun, which is obviously total nonsense, it doesn’t actually say that directly. So let’s generously give him a freebie there and skip to the body text.
“The silencing of Stephen Daisley has nagged away at journalism in Scotland for months.”
PARP! In fact, as far as we can locate, nobody’s written anything about it since the original incident nine weeks ago. It was a two-day wonder at best. Cobblers count: 1.
“His employer, STV, holds the ITV licences for central and northern Scotland, and is staying very quiet.”
A factually-true line! Make the most of it, folks, because it’s the last one you’re going to see from Mr Cohen for some considerable time.
“The Scottish National Party rolls around like a drunk who has won a bar fight. Its politicians and its claque of Twitter trolls celebrate their power to bully and tell direct lies about the journalist they have humiliated.”
PARP! If Mr Cohen can point out to us to a single “celebratory” tweet/quote from any SNP politician doing any such thing, we’d love to see it. Cobblers count: 2.
“The BBC endorses them.”
PARP! The BBC… endorses… the SNP? We, er… we must have just blacked out for a minute and missed that happening, we think. Cobblers count: 3.
“The National Union of Journalists supports them.”
PARP! Again, we must have missed the statement from the NUJ which expressed backing for the SNP. We really need to cut down on our drinking. Cobblers count: 4.
“Everyone behaves as if they are living in a one-party state.”
PARP! Where do you even start with that one? So much insanity in 11 words. Who is “everyone”? How is this behaviour expressed? Is everyone in Scotland living in terror of being denounced by their neighbours and huckled off into some sort of Caledonian concentration camp? Cobblers count: 5.
“Not a dictatorship with men in uniforms marching down the street. But a democratic one-party state like Scotland has become and England and Wales will soon be: a state where it is simply impossible to imagine the ruling party losing power.”
PARP! Um, we’re reasonably sure the SNP doesn’t even currently have a majority in Parliament. And since they came to power in 2007, the Scottish media has predicted their imminent demise at least 38 times and counting, the most recent being just days ago. Only this month the press was excitably assessing Ruth Davidson’s chances of being First Minister by 2021. Cobblers count: 6.
“Everything changes once that prospect is glimpsed. Opposition seems futile. Media organisations adapt themselves to the new order. The best editors tell their journalists to hold power to account. The cowards and the jobsworths suck up to the elite in the hope of gaining commercial privileges or enjoying the quiet life.
Because it is regulated by the state, and because politicians know the public gets most of its news from television, you see the worst bullying and the most abject cravenness in broadcasting.”
PARP! That’s quite an outburst. But is Mr Cohen really expecting us to accept the notion that the BBC is a mouthpiece for the Scottish Government? Were that to be the case, you’d really have to imagine that nationalists would love the state broadcaster and fervently defend it to their last breath.
And, y’know, they, um, don’t seem to feel that way.
Indeed, as recently as late July, Stephen Daisley commissioned a piece on that very subject for the STV website, entitled “BBC bias conspiracy is a cybernat delusion that harms the SNP’s cause”. Cobblers count: 7.
“It takes so little to set it off. Censorship always contains an element of absurdity. What is absurd about the Daisley affair is that the SNP has pursued him with malicious vindictiveness for minor failures to go along with nationalist power.”
PARP! As far as we know, the entire “pursuit” here consists of a couple of MPs very occasionally expressing opinions or asking questions about him on their personal public Twitter accounts. The SNP’s official statement was unambiguous: “At no point have the SNP or any of its parliamentarians asked for Mr Daisley to stop writing, and any suggestion otherwise is completely untrue.”
Cohen offers not a scrap of evidence to the contrary. Cobblers count: 8.
“What is sinister is that, instead of protesting, STV, the National Union of Journalists and the supposedly neutral BBC have tugged their forelocks so hard, I fear they may soon not have a hair left on their empty heads.”
PARP! Protesting against what, exactly? Two people expressing personal opinions on Twitter? STV categorically deny having received any complaint. Any action they may have taken against Stephen Daisley was entirely their own judgement as an employer. Cobblers count: 9.
“Stephen Daisley was STV’s digital politics and comment editor.”
PARP! “Was”? He still is. The most recent article commissioned by him for the site appeared yesterday. Cobblers count: 10.
“As well as commissioning news coverage, his managers wanted him to submit online opinion pieces. These could include his personal views, as Ofcom rules do not cover written opinion. STV was trying to turn itself into a multi-media platform, in other words, like just about every other media organisation. It would be a regulated TV station and an unregulated online newspaper at the same time.
I accept that seeing a TV journalist behave like a print journalist might surprise someone brought up in Britain’s pre-Internet broadcast culture. But Daisley was hardly a shock jock.”
PARP! Cough, splutter, etc. The passage below is from the last column by Daisley to appear on the STV site. We’d say it certainly counted as pretty provocative.
The one before that was headlined “Theresa May is Prime Minister and it’s the most natural thing I can imagine”, adding of her taking charge that “I feel relief, admiration, and the joy of recognition”, which is a bold thing to say in Scotland about a Tory PM.
Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing provocatively (or hiring others to do so, like inexplicable troll John McTernan), but pretending Stephen Daisley didn’t do it at all is an extraordinary perversion of the truth. Cobblers count: 11.
“He proved a stylish and independent columnist. He damned the right for its dislike of immigrants and refugees and the left (including the SNP left) for its alliances with Islamists and anti-Semites.”
This is in fact true. Nobody from the SNP, that we’ve seen, has made any sort of claim that Daisley’s columns were biased or unfair. They were undeniably well written and thought-provoking (even if sometimes that thought was “What an idiot”). We don’t recall Wishart, Nicolson or anyone else attacking them, only his social-media output.
“Daisley was sceptical about the SNP’s promises, but gave Nicola Sturgeon credit when he felt it due. She was ‘a tribal Nationalist, to be sure,’ he declared, at one point ‘but one at ease with other points of view’.
He soon discovered Sturgeon was nothing of the sort.”
PARP! Nicola Sturgeon has made no public comment on the matter and not even the looniest of pundits has suggested that she’s had the slightest involvement in the furore. Until now, anyway, when Cohen has simply dragged her in without the remotest or most microscopic shred of foundation. Cobblers count: 12.
“Daisley had asked hard questions about Scottish independence. He had said the SNP was ‘expert at mining grievance from even the most innocuous act or statement’. The SNP proved him right by making Daisley’s innocuous freedom of speech its grievance.”
PARP! Once again, “the SNP” has done no such thing. The party has 544 elected representatives in Scotland of one form or another, of whom two have made a couple of personal remarks about Stephen Daisley. That’s 0.4%. Cobblers count: 13.
“I want to emphasise that the SNP assault began before it charged Daisley with a journalistic crime that was so overblown it was no crime at all.”
PARP! This sentence makes no sense in English. Cobblers count: 14.
“In the spring, John Nicolson, a former BBC journalist in the tradition of David Icke and Paul Mason, and member of the Commons Media Committee, and his fellow nationalist MP, Pete Wishart, who if anything is even more vicious, went to a reception STV chief executive Rob Woodward was holding for MPs. It was supposed to be the usual corporate fluff. But they turned the event into a prosecution of STV’s digital politics coverage in general and Daisley in particular.”
PARP! We’re greatly enjoying the characterisation of Pete Wishart, who plays the keyboards for the house band in Matt Forde’s Unspun on Dave, as “vicious”.
But all three of the men named in that paragraph flatly deny Nick Cohen’s account of events, and as far as we know Nick Cohen wasn’t present (being neither an employee of STV nor an MP), so we’re not sure why anyone would take his word over theirs. Cobblers count: 15.
“The decision to allow Daisley to express his point of view was evidence of an anti-SNP agenda that ran through the whole of STV, they said. It was a disingenuous tactic. Daisley’s opinions were no one’s but his own, and were independent of party.
But like Trump with the liberal media, the Tory right with the BBC, and the Corbynites with just about everyone, Scottish nationalists keep their supporters in line by assuring them that they are victims of a vast and mendacious media conspiracy that brainwashes the masses who would otherwise support them.”
PARP! Hang on. A mere handful of paragraphs ago, Cohen was telling us how the BBC was a shameful, “abject” and “craven” cheerleader for the dastardly Nats. Now it’s a conspiracy against them. How does that work? Cobblers count: 16.
“Nicolson and Wishart targeted Daisley on Twitter, and whipped up the online ‘cybernats’ to search for anything that might discredit him.”
PARP! Can we see this “whipping up”, please? Independence supporters (and others) had been critical of Daisley for years before the incident. Daisley in turn regularly trolled them on Twitter. Thousands of people already had axes to grind and evidence wasn’t in short supply. It certainly didn’t happen because Nicolson and Wishart said so. Cobblers count: 17.
“In July, they found a pitiful piece of evidence for the prosecution: a tweet sent by Daisley from his own account recommending readers interested in politics follow various online satirists.
The SNP seized on the fact that, among his recommendations, Daisley had endorsed one ‘Brian Spanner’ the pseudonym for a sweary and often very funny Unionist who specialises in lampooning the Nats by pointing out the chasm between the ‘civic’ nationalist face they present in London TV studios and the more classical nationalist behaviour of some of their members and politicians back home.”
PARP! Just, all the parps. ParpFest 2016. ParpOcalypse Now. ParpMageddon. The Parp To End All Parps. We could go on. Cobblers count: 18.
“The SNP absolutely loathes him. Its politicians are not used to being mocked. Uniquely in the free world, Scottish artists and comics think they become true edgy radicals when they fawn before the state and pillory the opposition, rather than the other way round.”
PARP! Um… like who, exactly? Can we have some names? Can we hear about a few of the times Frankie Boyle, say, “fawned before the state”?
Scotland’s most famous comedian of all time, Billy Connolly, hobnobs with royalty and has been a venomous opponent of independence and the SNP for years. Susan Boyle was a strident backer of a No vote. The parade of prominent celebrity No supporters with state honours is a long one. Cobblers count: 19.
“Nicolson, Wishart and their online helpers put together a selection of nasty tweets ‘Spanner’ had produced about Scottish female politicians.”
PARP! No they didn’t. I did. Neither John Nicolson nor Pete Wishart were involved in any way in the process of compiling the list. Cobblers count: 20.
“They claimed he was a misogynist – he isn’t by the way; JK Rowling would not be Spanner’s friend if he were.”
PARP! Spectacular. We also hear that some of Hitler’s best friends were black, so he can’t possibly have been a racist. Cobblers count: 21.
“Then they claimed Daisley was a misogynist for suggesting people follow Spanner. Then they claimed that STV was misogynist for officially endorsing Daisley’s recommendation, even though Daisley had not tweeted on the STV’s professional account.”
PARP! We’re pretty certain that neither Nicolson nor Wishart did any of those things. We are of course happy to be corrected. Cobblers count: 22.
“It was insane, but anyone who has seen a Twitter storm knows that sanity is the first thing to be blown away. Daisley was told he could no longer be online political editor and write comment pieces. He must shut up or lose his job. In short, they shut him up.”
PARP! No source or proof is offered for these assertions, and STV have repeatedly denied that Daisley’s “silencing” was provoked by Nicolson or Wishart’s comments, with the broadcaster’s chief executive saying “We have not been put under pressure by any political parties to change what we are doing”. Cobblers count: 23.
“‘At no point have the SNP or any of its parliamentarians asked for Mr Daisley to stop writing, and any suggestion otherwise is completely untrue,’ said an SNP spokesman when the story broke. Daisley’s gagging was ‘an editorial decision,’ which was ‘entirely – and rightly – a matter for STV’.
Let me assume, for the sake of politeness, that SNP spokesman was an idiot. For it is more polite than calling him a liar, who knew very well that Wishart and Nicolson had been trying to silence Daisley for months. Wishart himself admitted on Twitter that he had complained about Daisley’s ‘crap’ journalism to STV.”
PARP! The SNP do not control STV at any level. We’re at a loss to imagine what practical leverage the SNP could credibly bring to bear on the broadcaster. Just because Pete Wishart doesn’t like something – and as far as we know MPs are still allowed to have and voice opinions about things – STV don’t have to act on his views. Cobblers count: 24.
“The affair would matter less if the normal checks of a free society against an overmighty state had kicked in. None did. The National Union of Journalists ought to have made a stand. But the Scottish NUJ is controlled by apologists for the nationalist government rather than defenders of freedom of the press.”
PARP! We’re told by reliable sources that Stephen Daisley is in fact not a member of the National Union of Journalists, who would therefore have no right to intervene on his behalf even if they wished to. Cobblers count: 25.
“Without speaking to Daisley, Scotland’s NUJ organiser Paul Holleran told reporters: ‘I would be astonished if STV bowed to any pressure and introduced censorship in the newsroom,’ even though STV had done just that. Article One of the NUJ’s code of conduct says a journalist must ‘at all times uphold and defend the principle of media freedom’.”
PARP! Except that STV absolutely deny doing so. Also, the freedom of the media does not prevent an employer from determining how its staff might be deployed. Daisley wasn’t sacked or demoted, STV simply chose not to have him write columns any more. Cobblers count: 26.
“So deferential is it to nationalism, the NUJ is prepared to ignore its own rules. The BBC is under pressure from the SNP to tell its viewers they are not a part of Britain by producing a Scottish version of the Six o’Clock News.”
PARP! Um, the existence of a Scottish-produced evening news bulletin would not bring about independence. Or remove Scotland from the geographical entity of “Britain”. Would that it were so easy. Cobblers count: 27.
“Almost two thirds of Scottish viewers are against it, but the SNP wants to ignore public opinion.”
PARP! Almost every poll on the subject finds a more or less even split between supporters, opponents and people who couldn’t care less. Cohen has cherry-picked the only one that found majority opposition. Cobblers count: 28.
“Indeed, only a few months ago, John Nicolson persuaded the Commons Culture Committee to recommend overriding the wishes of the voters”
PARP! The evil, unprincipled swine! He used his sinister powers of debate to persuade people (the Culture Committee has just one SNP member on it, out of 10) to his point of view? How DARE he? BURN THE WITCH! Cobblers count: 29.
“and the BBC.”
PARP! BBC Scotland in fact has wanted to produce a Scottish Six for around 20 years. It was only prevented in the late 1990s by the politically-motivated intervention of John Birt and Tony Blair. The decision to go ahead with a pilot now was made by the BBC itself, not by the Culture Committee. Cobblers count: 30.
“Given its experience of state pressure, surely BBC Scotland should have been able to say why press freedom mattered. Instead, BBC Scotland broke every ethical guideline it had so it could damn Daisley and please the Nats.”
Amusingly, at this point Cohen embeds a YouTube recording of the John Beattie Show on Radio Scotland from August. It had been uploaded by a Yes supporter, who on noticing Cohen’s inclusion of it quickly edited its title.
“First up on its programme discussing the case was Eamonn O’Neill, an academic. He assured the public that they had no need to worry. The Daisley affair was an ‘incestuous, inside the media bubble’ story of no concern to anyone. He did not know Stephen Daisley and had not ‘read his stuff’. But despite his self-confessed ignorance, he was happy to come down on the side of the SNP.”
PARP! The SNP, as unambiguously stated by all of the parties to the incident, has made no official comment, let alone any demands. Cobblers count: 31.
“Daisley had ‘crossed the line’ between editing and expressing his opinions, he said. (The learned academic apparently did not know that Ofcom rules did not cover Daisley’s online comment pieces).
And in any case, John Nicolson had said ‘there was no pressure applied anywhere’, so that must be true, even though it wasn’t.”
PARP! Once again Cohen states as a categorical fact that everyone who was actually involved in the matter and present at any of the related discussions is lying about it, even though he himself wasn’t present at any of them and offers no evidence from anywhere else to support his assertion. Cobblers count: 32.
“For balance, BBC Scotland turned to Channel 4 hack Stuart Cosgrove, who bravely, fiercely and independently also whitewashed Nicolson by repeating his demonstrably false claim that Daisley had used the STV Twitter account to tweet offensive opinions.“
PARP! Apparently it’s now a sign of corruption for two people in the same industry to agree about something. Cobblers count: 33.
“No one spoke to Daisley.”
PARP! Lots and lots of journalists have sought comment from Daisley on the matter. He has refused or ignored all requests. Cobblers count: 34.
“No one went through the publicly available record to show how the SNP had applied the screws.”
PARP! We think this must mean “nobody wasted their time checking Twitter to verify that two people had said things that none of them were denying having said”.
No matter how many times Cohen shrieks otherwise, there is no law and there are no rules which state that John Nicolson and Pete Wishart aren’t allowed to have and express personal opinions about an outspoken opinion columnist. If merely tweeting an opinion about something is intimidation and torture, we are all Torquemada. Cobblers count: 35.
“No one applied the standards the BBC insists in its editorial guidelines it should always follow. (‘We must do all we can to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in all our output,’ the BBC says at one point.)”
PARP! O’Neill and Cosgrove are the two regular guests on the show’s media round-up. It wasn’t as if Beattie deliberately invited two pundits from the same side of the argument as a stitch-up. Cobblers count: 36.
“But then the BBC, NUJ, Wishart and Nicolson know that Daisley cannot complain or he will lose his job. His editors have silenced him, and they can rely on the corporate power of the STV hierarchy to ensure they are never challenged.”
PARP! Any employee can challenge a decision of their employer, and seek redress through legal channels should they be unfairly dismissed as a result of doing so. Given that Stephen Daisley has made no comment, we have no idea whether he feels harshly treated or not. It appears that he’s simply having to do less work for his salary now. Cobblers count: 37.
“How they revel in it. The other day, I had enough of Nicolson’s bragging. I don’t like swaggering politicians at the best of times, but there is something particularly repellent about them when they are former journalists.
Nicolson announced on Twitter earlier this month:”
[Having acknowledged his personal animosity, Cohen then quotes a lengthy series of tweets between himself and Nicolson on the subject of whether Daisley had recommended Brian Spanner on his personal or professional Twitter accounts.]
PARP! Ironically, having by this point spent 1,700 words raging that the personal accounts of John Nicolson and Pete Wishart represented the official party stance of the SNP, he’s now furious that Nicolson is doing the same thing to Stephen Daisley.
Daisley’s account, as is often the case with journalists and broadcasters, was something of a grey area. The URL linked to in the bio wasn’t that of his personal blog, but of the STV politics section. The only disclaimer was a joke one.
To be fair, our interpretation would, like Cohen’s, be that Nicolson was wrong to state that Daisley had recommended Spanner on “his company’s professional account”.
But Cohen can’t have it both ways – if Daisley’s personal account isn’t the view of STV, then John Nicolson’s and Pete Wishart’s aren’t the view of the SNP, yet Cohen constantly insists they are. Cobblers count: 38.
“You will notice that at no point could Nicolson bring himself to withdraw a false claim, even when the evidence was in front of his eyes. You will note too that it was left to outsiders to do what STV would not do, and defend the freedom of STV journalists.
It is hard being an editor. You have to respond when your journalists make mistakes. But if you do not defend your journalists when they are in the right, then you become a figure of ridicule, first to your reporters and eventually to your readers and viewers too.”
PARP! Championing Brian Spanner and hiring John McTernan while also commissioning articles about how vile abusive cybernats are is a curious definition of being “in the right”, and we suspect that any obective analysis of social media would find Stephen Daisley far more ridiculed than his employers. Cobblers count: 39.
“By failing to defend Daisley, STV’s bosses have shown themselves to be unworthy of their senior positions. Everyone in Scottish journalism suspects they are in the SNP’s pockets, as Buzzfeed showed last week when it ran a story headlined ‘STV Accused Of ‘SNP Love-In’ For Hosting A Welcome Event For Its Party Conference’.”
PARP! Apparently BuzzFeed’s Jamie Ross is now the official spokesman for the whole of Scottish journalism. He’ll be well chuffed. Cobblers count: 40.
“As I said earlier, get used to it. New technologies allow politicians to work with trolls to shut up journalists who break the party line. One-party dominance – the SNP in Scotland, the Tories in England – means the worst editors and broadcasters will do as they are told rather than risk a fight with elites who look as if they will stay in power forever.”
PARP! We assume this explains why not a single journalist or newspaper critical of the SNP now exists in Scotland. Cobblers count: 41.
“The case of Stephen Daisley may seem a small affair, but it’s a signpost to our future.”
PARP! No it isn’t, you ridiculous giant shrieking nonce. The last journalist to regularly attract public criticism from SNP politicians was Alan Roden of the Scottish Daily Mail, whose reputation and career were so cruelly shattered by numerous unfriendly tweets from bullying Nazi Nats that he, er, was poached by Scottish Labour to be their new Director of Communications. Cobblers count: 42.
This article is over 4000 words long, readers. That’s four times what we generally aim for in this short-attention-span modern world. But once in a blue moon, if it’s a slow news week, it can be instructive and worthwhile to take something in the mainstream media apart atom by atom and expose not just the main thrust of its lie, but every single smaller lie making up the greater whole.
Nick Cohen managed 42 separate, identifiable falsehoods in under 1900 words last night. That’s one every 45 words. On one level we’re almost impressed – it’s a record that’ll take some beating. The most depressing thing about monitoring the Scottish media, though, is that we doubt it’ll be all that long before someone does it.