Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Unhelpful Headlines

Anyone listening to the BBC’s headlines about Charles Kennedy this morning will be misled. Shocking, I know. I admit I’ve read the Times pieces (oh, look, a newspaper that means us no good is serialising this; another shock), and while they’re in no way helpful to Charles or the Lib Dems in general, the headlines still misrepresent them. He “had a serious drink problem before he took up the post,” says Today, “and senior Liberal Democrats concealed it from the electorate.” You’d think that was one headline, but in fact – if the Times’ story is fact – it’s two.

Charles was elected Leader in 1999; according to The Times and the new hatchet job biography, the meeting where he admitted to four senior Lib Dems that he was an alcoholic was in, er, 2003. Even Millennium can work out on his fluffy feet that the numbers come in the wrong order for the way the headlines are presenting them and that they’ve conflated two stories in the most damaging but least truthful way.

I can’t see any good that’ll come out of going into exactly who did what at the beginning of the year, and said I’d stop talking about it on the morning of the Leadership election. No-one has given any reason why re-opening the wounds will be of the slightest use to anyone but our political opponents and Mr Murdoch’s circulation figures, and I’m not wildly enthusiastic about boosting either. Let’s just make the best of where we are now, eh? I hope both Charles and Ming give satisfying speeches in Brighton, and I suspect that’ll see them taking the fight to our opponents rather than navel-gazing little bands of followers still thinking it’s clever to turn their fire on each other.

8.10 Update after Blogger comes back online: I’d sent a complaint to the Today site before posting here, after being infuriated by the 6.30, 7.00 and 7.30 headlines. I suspect others complained too, as the 8 am news carefully separated the two claims into distinct sentences. Still not a helpful story, of course, but no longer an outright lie from the BBC.

Didn’t, you know, everyone know that he had a drink problem - including journalists.
Indeed, but how much of a problem is a problem? Is everyone who's known for liking a drink an alcoholic?

I remember stories of Charles' drinking in the early '90s and long before I was anything senior in the party, but when I was regularly seeing him on the Federal Policy Committee when he was Leader I never once saw him incapable - and I can't say the same of every politician I've encountered (not least the Labour soon-to-be-minister with whom I once did a TV programme while he was blatantly off his face).

A few years into his Leadership, he'd lost a lot of weight and was looking much fitter. I assumed that meant he'd cut back a lot on his drinking once he was in a more demanding job.

The eventual declaration that he was an alcoholic wasn't exactly a surprise, but neither did it seem like a foregone conclusion.
They did a fairly sympathetic piece on it after 8:30 (didn't hear the earlier bulletins).
They let two LibDems talk in reasoned terms about it without attacking too much.
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