Does it matter that a prominent nationalist website doesn’t consider accuracy as important? asks TOM HARRIS

 

First the bad news: NewsNat Scotland don’t like me. And now the good news: NewsNat Scotland don’t like me. Well, let’s face it: if they were ever complimentary about me, I’d know for certain that I was doing something wrong.

For the uninitiated, NewsNat was set up to provide its readership with an unalloyed nationalist spin to every news story. It fair foams at the mouth at every “injustice” perpetrated on Scotland by the Yoonyoonists and makes it clear that it reckons Alex Salmond is just fab.

Three times in the last week, the site has published fictional claims claims about me. And that’s fine, honestly. But you have to ask: if their arguments are so unarguably right, why do they have to make up stuff? Aren’t the facts alone enough to support a case for separation?*

In fact, the first lie published by NewsNat about me has since been removed. It claimed, somewhat bewilderingly, that the party leadership had exerted pressure on our MSPs to nominate me as leader. Now, you don’t have to have the ability to read words and stuff to know that I entered (and finished) the contest without the support of a single MSP. In fact, you barely needed to be awake to work that one out. But not the people over at NewsNat, oh no!

The second and third lies (yes! A double whammy!) were contained in this story: the first is the claim I had withdrawn from the leadership race after balloting had ended (yeah, I know). Nowhere does it quote a source justifying this unlikely – well, actually impossible (since ballot papers with my name on it had already been returned) event.

But read the headline: Tom Harris launches broadside against “backward” Scottish Labour. See that word in double inverted commas? That means that the word “backward” is a quote, presumably from me. Yet nowhere in the article does the word appear. Could that be because I never used it? Hmm… curiouser and curiouser.

In fact the same story also contained the germ of NewsNat‘s next lie about me, which was published four days later under the headline Harris claims Scottish Labour has less than 50% chance of surviving. The article repeats a quote I gave to the Sunday Times the previous Wednesday and which I had repeated a number of times at hustings events during the leadership campaigns. But then NewsNat adds:

  • Mr Harris’s comments follow criticisms he made of the party in Scotland last week when he suggested Scottish members were unable to make the necessary changes in order to ensure survival.

The thing is (and I accept this is a minor technical point, folks) I made no such suggestion. In fact, I made the criticism that Scottish Labour is far too conservative specifically in order to convince it to embrace change, not because I thought it was incapable of doing so.

But they were on a roll now: my comments, says NewsNat, “come just one day after the election of Johann Lamont as the leader of the party in Scotland.” Except they didn’t. They were certainly reported one day after Johann’s election, but obviously not made at that point.

Y’see, this is what happens when you have people with no journalistic experience – or indeed, experience of paying any attention at all to the media – writing for a website. The writer, (“A NewsNat Reporter”, it says here) obviously thought that features in Sunday papers are written last thing on a Saturday evening or perhaps first thing on the morning of publication. Some news stories near the front of the paper undoubtedly are. But features – such as that in which my comments were initially reported – are not. They’re prepared well in advance, with the author topping and tailing the piece as appropriate to make sure it’s up to date at publication.

Then, today, NewsNat goes in a strop because I used Twitter to point out its fondness for factual inexactitudes.

Well, it’s all part of the game we call politics, isn’t it? Granted, NewsNat goes further than the most disreputable tabloids when it comes to making stuff up about those who dare to oppose its world view. Bet, hey, it’s Christmas. Season of good will to all men. And Nats, even.

 

* No