Fay Young

curiosity about the ways of the world

Sometimes the facts get in the way of a good story

An odd story caught my eye yesterday. A photograph posted on Facebook claimed to prove that Jim Murphy, the Labour MP  for East Renfrewshire was ‘egged’ by his own ‘minder’. According to rumours flying round Facebook this was a set up intended to smear the Yes campaign whose tactics had forced him to abandon his soap box tour of Scotland campaigning for a No vote.

Among those who shared this photograph was a respected Scottish blogger, journalist and author  who added his own comment:

“So it seems Jim Murphy’s own security guard / minder DID throw the egg! How low can the former Scotland secretary stoop?”

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story?  I remember the quip from my early days as an apprentice reporter on a local newspaper. It was repeated often on our journalist training courses when we studied law and local government, court and council reporting along with more practical skills like typing and shorthand.

But back in the newsroom our chief reporter made sure any ‘good story’ was able to stand up. “Have you checked the facts?” he would ask, puffing on a pipe.

Last night I checked the Jim Murphy story with a Labour party mate.  ‘It’s hilarious.’ he messaged back. ‘Jim doesn’t have any security –  he’s not the prime minister or defence secretary! It’s conspiracy central.’

During a busy day every now and then I mused on the influence of new and old media on the campaign for and against independence in Scotland. In referendums, as in war, it seems truth is one of the first casualties.  Who cares about facts in pack attacks on Twitter and Facebook.

What has happened to good old fashioned journalistic curiosity? Where is the quest for independent inquiry? You won’t find it in the Herald on Sunday which declared for Yes very early in the campaign. The Scotsman seems more open minded but the old liberal newspaper which campaigned for devolution twice running is now short staffed and sorely pressed. Where are the resources to investigate the wild claims of both Yes and No campaigns?  Has any Scottish journalist attempted to examine Alex Salmond’s ridiculous claim that the NHS would be threatened by a No vote?  The Scottish Government has complete control over health but that claim, along with the nonsense about the pound, has not been diligently deconstructed on behalf of the reading and voting public. Or at least not as far as I am aware (I would be delighted to be proved wrong).

But what about the mystery ‘minder’?  On Twitter this afternoon I picked up a link to a court story covered by today’s Courier

Kirkcaldy Yes supporter sentenced for egging Jim Murphy

The story, by Michael Alexander, is worth reading.  It seems Stuart Mackenzie, angered by Jim Murphy’s refusal to answer the question, “What have you got against democracy” had gone to the nearest Tesco, bought half a dozen eggs and, having missed with the first three thrown from a distance, moved closer :

He then repositioned himself and tried again — missing from four yards’ range — before approaching the MP and “physically striking him” with the eggs before making off.

Mackenzie gave himself up when the media storm broke out and confessed himself a yes supporter.  In Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court he was sentenced to 80 hours community service. Good old fashioned court reporting.  Sometimes facts are more interesting than fiction. But I have yet to see the true story flying round Facebook.

Chicken strutting with outstretched wings

Funky Chicken, photo by David MK CC by NC 2.0

3 Comments

  1. I’m very touched to get an email from my old chief reporter (actually not so much older than me it turns out) saying that he is proud to hear I still want to check facts.

    Social media has opened a floodgate, connecting communities of interest for better and for worse. I’m thinking that there is often a huge difference between a citizen journalist and a local newspaper reporter.

    Citizen journalists – or perhaps I mean the keyboard warriors among them – can start and spread rumours without having to talk to their targets or look at them in the face.

    Local reporters are likely to meet the subject of their story in the street. It matters to get it right but that never needs to stop diligent reporters seeking and telling the truth. Inconvenient as it often is.

  2. Fay, I confess it was me who posted that particular Facebook post and yes with the benefit of hindsight I probably erred and have since deleted the post.

    However in my defence I stress my use of the word “SEEMED” in the Facebook status update – as in I said it “seemed” as if it was Jim Murphy’s minder had thrown the egg. That was on the basis of the evidence available at the time from the photographs on numerous websites.

    It’s perhaps worth remembering the context to all this. At the time it was being widely reported that Jim Murphy had been forced to suspend his “100 Streets in 100 days” speaking tour of Scotland, as if he had almost been hounded out of Scotland. On 29th, BBC Radio 4 Today ran a report – based on unsubstantiated allegations from Murphy – that he was being plagued by “organised mobs” and physical threats.

    The oday programme gleefully reported these unsubstantiated reports as facts, before ending its report with one sentence about an actual conviction in court of an individual for threatening the First Minister Alex Salmond … but which failed to mention that the offence was a threat to assassinate him.

    That is clearly not balanced coverage. It was in that context that someone I then trusted alerted me to the “egg” story.

  3. Thank you Ian, I acknowledge that we are all capable of jumping to conclusions. Gossip and rumours are part of life but Facebook is not just a chat in the pub, it’s public broadcasting, especially if you have a large following. It is now so easy to spread misinformation through social media and very difficult to stop or correct false and harmful rumours.

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