Damian McBride, Derek Draper and the smears against Tories

The Daily Telegraph has reported:

Row as Number 10 emails ‘smear Tories’
The emails, which made a number of unfounded, innuendo-laden suggestions about the private lives of David Cameron, George Osborne and other Conservative MPs, came into the possession of Paul Staines, who writes the Guido Fawkes political blog…

The prospect of publication [of the emails] alarmed ministers, who feared that they would be accused of orchestrating a smear campaign against senior Tory figures. Some of the emails made lurid claims about Mr Cameron, the Tory leader, and Mr Osborne, the shadow chancellor.

However, there appears to be a degree of trying to spike the story ahead of other papers, because as Guido Fawkes says:

The Telegraph implies that Guido has sold the story to the Sunday newspapers – that is completely untrue – Downing Street tried that same line against the Home Office whistleblower. They are also trying to make out that the story is just about Damian McBride sending gossipy emails to his pal Derek Draper. Utter lies…

Other well known Labour insiders besides Damian McBride – including a government minister – are involved in the operation. Guido has hard evidence that Tory MPs have been smeared, and that a particularly vicious concerted smear operation was mounted against George Osborne, smears that Damian McBride – a civil servant – knows and admits in writing are untrue, yet he was still instrumental in spreading. Some well known lobby journalists have knowingly gone along with it. This is a lot bigger than some minor bloggers spat.

Iain Dale looks to be one of the other people targeted, for he wrote yesterday:

Two weeks ago, on 27 March, I wrote THIS post in which I outlined my suspicions that Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s chief political, advisor had sent emails to Derek Draper in early February encouraging a smear campaign against me. I then submitted a Freedom of Information and DPA request to the Cabinet Office asking for details of any information they held on me and for details of any emails sent by Mr McBride relating to me. That FOI Request has been acknowledged by the Cabinet Office and is being processed.

What really strikes me about the story so far is the willingness of The Telegraph to try to rubbish the source of information for the story; hence its piece talks about fears of hacking and the possibility of secrets being sold for money – for none of which does it appear to have any evidence.

Usually, the media are very reluctant to criticise sources for stories, even when it turns out they’ve supplied duff information. The usual way of trying to rubbish a story someone else has is to get in first with an exclusive interview from another person involved, rather than accusing the source of stories of dodgy behaviour. No surprise really, because in the end the media need sources to be willing to talk, and rubbish sources isn’t a great way to encourage others to come forward on future stories.

The tragic death of Ian Tomlinson is a good example of this. Clearly, some of the ‘police sources’ who provided information to the media initially gave at best very incomplete stories about what had happened. Was that due to innocent error or due to a deliberate attempt at cover-up and blame shifting?

That’s the story of question the mainstream media very rarely pursue because, in the end, they are all heavily dependent on police sources continuing to supply further stories in future. (The Telegraph, ironically, today is a slight exception to this – but its story is very much driven by reporting criticisms voiced by people in the public eye.)

My guess would be that at least some in the media have severe doubts about what they were told because some of the early coverage of the recent anti-terrorist arrests, again heavily dependent on police sources, had far more caveats in them about information not yet being clear, no firm evidence as yet etc, than I remember from previous anti-terrorist operations. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

As for the Damian McBride story, it will be interesting to see what the Sunday papers bring…

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