Boris Johnson, Politics & the Media have Much In Common As They Lie For A living!
Greg Lance – Watkins
Sunday 27 March 2016
In March 2013, confronted by the BBC’s Eddie Mair with the accusation that he’d been sacked from The Times for fabricating a quote in an article he had written, Boris Johnson’s response was typically disingenuous.
Caught out in perpetrating one of the most heinous crimes possible in journalism, betraying the trust of his readership, Johnson at one admitted the “crime” but then immediately sought to make light of it. “Well, I mean”, he said, “I mildly sandpapered something somebody said, and yes it’s very embarrassing and I’m very sorry about it”.Yet, “mildly sandpapered” doesn’t even begin to describe the seriousness of what Johnson did. According to the Mail (supplemented by the account in Sonia Purnell’s book), he was indeed guilty of an egregious fabrication.
After graduating from Oxford in 1987, Johnson had became a trainee journalist with The Times and in May 1988 had been asked to write about the discovery of the long-lost palace of Edward II on the south bank of the Thames in London.
Not content with the mere journeyman’s task of writing up the facts, Johnson decided to insert a completely spurious reference to gay sex among the royals, a titillating paragraph about how the King would use the palace to cavort with his catamite Piers Gaveston.
To give his invented passage credibility, he then fabricated a quote from an Oxford don, Sir Colin Lucas, his own godfather, an expert on the French revolution, not medieval England. Not only had Johnson not checked the quotation with him, it was – as Purnell puts it – “pure historical tosh”. Piers Gaveston had been beheaded in 1312, making it hard for him to cavort around a palace not constructed until 1325.
What then happened typifies the Johnson “brand”. When Lucas complained to The Times about this invention, he got the dust off from editor Charlie Wilson, with the words: “Our reporter stands by his story”.
When Lucas persisted, Johnson wrote another story, aiming to defuse the row by backtracking on the original, again fabricating another quote. Purnell has it that this sealed Johnson’s fate. He was summoned before the editor and told that it was a “heinous crime” to make up quotes for The Times.
According to Purnell, rather than being contrite, Johnson simply claimed that “most” of the quotes in the paper were made up. With that, he was sacked but has never truly repented. Instead, he blames “whingeing historians” for pointing out his error, and Lucas’s “ruthlessness” in seeking a correction.
At the time though, Lucas, a respected historian, had been trying to become master of Balliol College. Johnson’s damaging fabrication had cost him that job.
However, what should have been the end of his career as a journalist, for Boris Johnson simply became a short pause before he was given a job by Max Hastings as leader-writer on The Daily Telegraph.
On this newspaper, making up stories has never been a barrier to success. A famed Belfast correspondent during the height of the Troubles has gained his fearsome reputation while posting his front-line stories from the safety of his fashionable London residence, often embellishing his stories with quotes from police officers on the spot, garnered from television reports.
Latterly, its sister paper, The Sunday Telegraph was to hire Robert Mendick as its chief reporter after he had been fired by the Evening Standard after being slated by the PPC for fabricating a story on climate activists. This was by no means the first time Mendick had lied in fabricating a story, and he was to find his spiritual home in the Telegraph group, where lies were already an established part of the corporate culture.
In this culture, Johnson was to thrive, having in the spring of 1989 been appointed as Brussels correspondent for the newspaper. There, totally out of his depth as a working journalist, he overcame his lack of experience by simply making up his stories.
This was the view of Rory Watson of the now defunct European, endorsed by David Usborne, the Independent’s Brussels correspondent, said of Johnson, “He was fundamentally intellectually dishonest”. Sarah Helm, the Independent’sdiplomatic correspondent was even more forthright. “I remember developing an instinctive feel that Boris was a complete charlatan”.
Michael Binyon, a Times man in Brussels spoke of Johnson having written “some grotesquely exaggerated stories”. He did not, as David Gardner of the Financial Times once complained, even stop at plagiarising the copy of his fellow journalists, embellishing stolen work to make it more attractive to his editors and readers.
Peter Guilford, another Times correspondent, explained how Johnson worked: “The key was, he did use people, he used everybody. It was in a charming, buffoonish way”. A well-known broadcaster confirmed this, saying: “He gets away with murder because he is very charming”.
But this is a man who, with his made-up stories of the Commission banning under-sized condoms and requiring fishermen to wear hair nets, created a whole new genre of reporting, the “Euro-myth”. In so doing, for his own personal gain, he has set back the understanding of what was going on in Brussels by decades.
When I started working with Booker in 1992, Johnson was still enthroned in Brussels, churning out his lies. We spent much of our time having to correct or debunk his stories, on the grounds that to run with demonstrably false tales undermined our credibility and damaged the cause – which it does to this day.
Even by then, the rest of the Brussels press corps was growing weary of him. Journalist Geoff Meade, although conveying affection for the man, speaks with disdain for his “lying, conniving side”. “I’m always very careful what I say to Boris as I know he’ll always try to benefit from it”, he said.
This is the man who came back from Brussels in 1994, then established as a star, but in truth getting out just in time. His colleagues were openly contemptuous of his “Borisisms” and he had become such a pariah amongst EU officials that no one would talk to him. He was by then a caricature figure and had to go.
We have, therefore, a man who in the media is known as a serial liar, but where these are not an incidental part of his life. He is a man who has built a career out of lying, making a profession of it. So, last Tuesday, when Andrew Tyrie called him to task for his latest batch of lies, he was by no means the first. He was just another footnote in Johnson’s unending career of mendacity.
Yet now, at last, we have two journalists go strongly into print to call him out for the serial liar that he is, and predictably, apologists spring to his defence. Firstly, we had Iain Martin in his self-referential propaganda site, CapX, then to be followed by Ross Clark in the Spectator, the magazine Johnson once edited.
The Mayor has had too easy a press in many quarters, writes Clark, adding: “There is a good reason for this: he is one of us. There is a bit of the Bullingdon in Fleet Street: we are often too disinclined to attack our own”.
Neither of his defenders, though, allow the use of the “l-word”, as in liar. All Clark will allow is a reference to Johnson being “dishonest, a chancer”, which he then excuses with a generous dismissal, writing that, “Of course Boris can be a slimy opportunist – show me a top politician who isn’t”.
But this is to gloss over the fact that Johnson is in a class of his own, having made a career in journalism out of lying, thence to repeat it as a politician combined with his lucrative career as an over-paid columnist on the Telegraph, a newspaper so much at ease with journalistic invention.
For those then who think this post is another one on Boris “Serial Liar” Johnson, it isn’t. It is about the corruption at the heart of the media, which will embrace a serial liar as one of their own and despite his catalogue of lies, will present him as a fit and proper person to represent the “leave” campaign in this desperately important referendum.
One is entitled to ask of these people how dare they pervert and trivialise our referendum? How dare they front this compulsive liar, despite knowing exactly what he is, and how dare they defend and protect them, when he is set to wreck the hopes and dreams of so many?
So no, this isn’t about Boris. It’s about the loathsome, venal, disgusting travesty of a self-serving industry that calls itself a free press, yet which is undermining the very democracy which gives it succour – a parasite sucking the life out of our politics.
And on that basis, there is no way in a million years that any decent person can possibly endorse the judgement of the media, and accept this dishonest, dishonourable travesty of a man as a potential leader of the “leave” campaign”. His corruption is infectious, tainting the industry of which he is part. And we can do without the machinations of this diseased industry polluting our campaign.
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Below is the full text of The Spectator article
It is good that Matthew Parris has taken on Boris. The Mayor has had too easy a press in many quarters. There is a good reason for this: he is one of us. There is a bit of the Bullingdon in Fleet Street: we are often too disinclined to attack our own.
Matthew Parris acknowledges this, and the vitriolic nature of his Times column on Saturday is an attempt to redress the balance. But for me, my objection is not that Matthew has gone over the top in his attack on Boris – it is that his line of attack is fundamentally wrong. The same is true of Nick Cohen’s blast yesterday on the same subject.
Let’s brush over Matthew’s complaint that a man who once supported Clause 28 has no right to boast on an LGBT ‘out and proud’ video. Boris has really just made the same journey as have many conservatives over the past three decades: from mild homophobia to one of complete ease on the subject. I don’t think Boris’s marital infidelities are much of an issue, either – on this Boris has been a beneficiary of greater social liberalism among conservatives. As, indeed, has David Cameron, who would have been in trouble had he found himself a decade earlier unable or unwilling to deny rumours that he had once taken class A drugs.
Matthew Parris’s more serious charge is that Boris is dishonest, a chancer who will do anything to anyone in order to obscure the policy vacuum at the heart of his political philosophy. Nick Cohen takes up the same line, turning attention to the Mayor’s flip-flops on the EU. How can anyone take Boris’s campaign for Brexit seriously, he asks, given that as late as February he was arguing that negotiations for Brexit would distract from the government’s other business?
To say Boris has no political ideas is wrong. He is at heart a libertarian who believes in small government and free trade — an anti Corn Law Tory. He has drifted from these beliefs in office, becoming more of a spender than he should be. He backed an extravagant Olympics when his head would have told him to oppose it. But his pragmatism in bending to these things is no greater than other democratic leaders — anyone who is elected has to follow the will of the people to some extent. The idea that an elected politician can ignore public opinion and blindly follow a path of personal principle is absurd. Boris could see the Olympics were popular, in spite of the extravagance, and so he fell behind the people who elected him.
On the EU, Boris’s principles are torn because while on one hand the EU has been a champion of free trade, it has also been an impediment to progress in some areas. It has protected agriculture to a bizarre degree, freezing out developing countries from our food markets. That is an issue which especially grates with Boris. The EU has also compromised its support for free markets where it conflicts with workers’ rights. On the one hand the EU has brought us a pan-European free market in labour, but on the other hand it has forced on member states a lot of employment law, making it harder for companies to hire and fire. That is what makes the decision on the EU referendum so very difficult for people who believe in free trade and liberal economics — the EU is good and bad and it is not easy to decide where the balance is.
That is why Boris has swung from one side to the other on the EU. It is contrary to the Parris charge — it is because he is more thoughtful on the issue than are most politicians. The Cameron approach to the referendum is far more dishonest – the Prime Minister gave every indication of wanting a serious negotiation with the EU and told us he would campaign to leave if he didn’t get a satisfactory deal. Yet even before he had got any kind of deal he was campaigning to stay in. Now he tries to tell us that leaving would be an utter disaster — raising the question why, if he thinks that, did he ever want to risk having a referendum at all?
There’s real dishonesty and a real policy vacuum for you. As it happens, I still have doubts that Boris will make it to Number 10. My bet is the ‘in’ campaign will win, Cameron will continue as PM, emboldened by his victory and Boris will reach his Parliamentary apogee as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Cameron will seek the ultimate revenge, putting Boris’s younger brother Jo in a higher cabinet position.
But if Boris fails to make it to PM it would not be for lack of vision or honesty. On the contrary, on the EU referendum he has been one of the few to admit that it is not an easy Tdecision.
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