Alex Massie

Thought for the Day

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Courtesy of Charles Moore in this week's Spectator:

Reviewing Stephen Robinson’s new biography of Bill Deedes in these pages last week, Peregrine Worsthorne was fierce against his old colleague. Worsthorne said that Deedes lacked the ‘willingness to tell the truth to power’ which is ‘indispensable’ to journalism. Bill did indeed hate confrontation, to a fault, but there is something arrogant about the assumption, always made by journalists about ourselves, that we know so clearly what the truth is. Besides, if we do know it, surely our first duty is to tell the truth not to power — that is our second duty, flowing from the first — but to the readers. It amazes me how little consideration the readers get in the memoirs and conversations of journalists. If they appear at all, it is as an offstage comic army of bores who write foolish letters which we rarely bother to answer. Too many of us write for our friends or our enemies, for a few experts in the Foreign Office or the City (or whatever), or for self-aggrandisement. Part of the reason that Bill Deedes really was a genius of journalism was that he never forgot that he was writing for the readers. It was to them, not to proprietors, that he ultimately deferred. He struck up a kindly conversation with them, on their terms. This was not a lack of moral courage, but a form of good manners, and it is why the readers loved him more than any other writer.

May I also observe that the phrase "tell the truth to power" should a) be retired and b) is, almost without exception, favoured by bores and charlatans

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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