Oborne’s ideas of ethics
Sir: Your edition of 28 September included a 1,500-word demand from the journalist Peter Oborne to the effect that the Times, the newspaper that I work for, should sack its columnist Danny Finkelstein. The reason given by Oborne for this view is that Finkelstein is too parti pris and close to people in power to be a ‘proper’ journalist. He is wrong in his argument and also, I believe, deficient in his journalism.
Oborne deploys the veteran cliché about true journalists ‘speaking truth unto power’. Yet the history of British newspapers is full of ‘political’ journalists such as Finkelstein. At the Telegraph there were great figures such as Bill Deedes and T.E. Utley and here at The Spectator ideological editors have included Nigel Lawson, Iain MacLeod and Boris Johnson. Indeed Peter Oborne served as Johnson’s political editor. Was that a problem? Oborne does not tell us, since the one power he seems never quite to speak truth unto is the one that employs him.
Oborne’s strictures on journalistic values would also have had more authority had he demonstrated faithfulness to them himself. Instead he opted to repeat a series of claims from anonymous sources about Finkelstein’s ‘hidden’ relationship with George Osborne. These estimated a Finkelstein-Osborne phone -call rate of seven a day and claimed that Osborne’s speeches were written by the Times man. Well, a source so close to Daniel Finkelstein that he is Daniel Finkelstein told me that such claims were nonsense. He would have told Oborne the same thing had Oborne followed Journalist Ethics 101 and actually contacted him. It must have slipped his mind.
The irony is that it is Oborne — with his conviction that an Edenic world was destroyed by the Satanic Tony Blair — who is guilty of imposing ideology on journalism. This fixation has led him in the past to entertain ludicrous conspiracy theories about the death of Dr David Kelly. And last week the collateral in his battle with Evil included Finkelstein as well as the former editor ‘the wretched’ James Harding, one of the best journalists I have worked with, under whose aegis the Times was praised for its investigative journalism.
For shame, Peter.
Wapping, London E1
No end to Aids yet
Sir: If only it were ‘The end of Aids’ (28 September). In Britain, let alone the rest of the world, more new diagnoses of HIV infection are being made than ever, and HIV transmissions are probably continuing on a significant scale. By diagnosing HIV infection and initiating treatment early, both the further transmission of infection and the development of Aids can be interrupted; but only when there are no further transmissions of HIV will it be possible to assert that ‘the end of Aids’ is in sight.
It is humiliating that an impoverished postwar Britain managed to see off pulmonary tuberculosis with combined drug therapy in less than five years, while modern Britain has hardly begun to do so for HIV in the ten years for which comparable therapy has been available.
A case defended
Sir: Apropos Sophia Waugh’s reminiscences of her father’s cellar (21 September), I recall as a young man buying a case of white wine that Auberon Waugh had recommended in The Spectator. I did not like it and wrote and told him so. He invited me to bring the remaining bottles to his office in Soho. We drank one bottle together — and then he insisted on buying the rest off me.
But what about my hits?
Sir: I think I must put Rifkind right about some facts (28 September). He thinks I have been lucratively clowning about in Brussels since 2004. I am paid the same amount as a Westminster MP — about what I was earning in the City in 1989 — and for my first term I gave all my attendance allowances to charity, as recorded on my website for nine years. Homework, Hugo, there’s a good fellow, I am also only one of three MEPs who have had more than one million hits on their European Parliament speeches. Yes, and pre-‘Bongo’.
Godfrey Bloom MEP
In praise of Tanner
Sir: I entirely disagree with Roger Anderson’s criticism of Michael Tanner’s review of Turandot (Letters, 28 September). On the contrary, I find that his reviews of the opera scene are much more interesting than the reviews in our daily papers, precisely because they address the work itself. It is much more valuable to read his attempts to grapple with the philosophical meanings behind some of the great works of the canon, especially of course Wagner’s, than a listing of who sang well, who didn’t and how the production was rubbish, which is what most opera reviews consist of nowadays. Suffice to say that when I download each week’s Spectator, it is always his article to which I turn first.
Making planes for Nigels
Sir: It will be of no comfort to Nigel Farndale (‘Name of shame’, 14 September) to know that British Airways pilots used to be disparagingly referred to by the cabin crew as ‘the Nigels’, and that the pilots’ preferred breakfast of sliced banana on cornflakes was known as a ‘Nigelburger’. The pilots felt the name conjured up images of ‘the right stuff’. The cabin crew thought that it suggested spoilt ex-public-school boys. Whatever the reason, we ex-grammar-school boys got the label too.