OPINION: Are journalists worthy of our trust?

Why does anybody trust a journalist? I ask this question as a journalist who spent half his working life managing journalists on behalf of governments of both political hues. I ask it now because of the personal pain which the activities of the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley have brought Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the damage his book on how their government works has done to its interests.

Why does anybody trust a journalist? I ask this question as a journalist who spent half his working life managing journalists on behalf of governments of both political hues. I ask it now because of the personal pain which the activities of the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley have brought Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the damage his book on how their government works has done to its interests.

Let us forget the Bernie Ecclestone affair. We did not need Mr Rawnsley to remind us that Mr Blair and his entire gang were being exceedingly economical with the truth over the issue. It was obvious at the time.

Some of us said so and have repeatedly made the point that no previous post-war prime minister - and certainly not Margaret Thatcher or John Major - would have survived such a disgraceful favours-for-cash episode.

The interesting phenomena is not the lies which were told - and continue to be told - but the new morality which has allowed the fibbers to get away with it.

It may be that this new morality assumes that journalists broadly sympathetic to the Blair project will censor themselves as they write.

Certainly, the British media have given Mr Blair's government the longest easy ride since the war. Indeed, the venomous, lip-smacking reptiles Mr Major knew became poodles overnight.

This caused some to wonder whether they had caught the American journalistic bug which singles out Republicans for much harsher treatment than Democrats.

In fact, I know of no evidence of journalists running away from nasty stories for the Blair government. Just think of Bernie Ecclestone, Mr Blair's errand-running for Rupert Murdoch to Romano Prodi when he was Italian Prime Minister, Geoffrey Robinson and his amazing generosity to Peter Mandelson, and Ron Davies' interest in benighted parks in south London. But there is plenty of evidence of editors softening the treatment of stories and losing their killer instincts. These media dogs have never howled less in the night for a minister's blood. In my time, they slavered in anticipation of it.

But editors are one thing. Journalists are another. And left to their own devices - as Mr Rawnsley was with his book - journalists know what they are about. They are in the business of stories. This does not mean that they are a dishonourable shower. Many of them are far more honourable than we are entitled to expect, given the nature of their trade. But they are in a highly competitive business of disclosure. And when they are writing a book they want 24-carat nuggets.

Mr Rawnsley got some because of the enthusiasm with which ministers spoke to him. There can be only two explanations: either they wanted to exhibit their dirty washing, for this is a singularly bitchy government, or they were naive. I leave you to decide ... would you trust a journalist?



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