Friday, January 12, 2007


The sinister Oliver Kamm is still banging the Emma Brockes is innocent drum. On his website Unspeak the Guardian journalist Steven Poole wrote that the Guardian had "published an interview with Chomsky that featured invented quotes". The reply from Kamm soon came.

Kamm wrote to Poole that “The headline to the interview (which was nothing to do with Emma Brockes, as you know) was wrong and merited correction, because it took words by Prof Chomsky and associated them with a question he hadn’t been asked. But that’s not what you [Poole] say: you comment about what’s in the interview, and clearly suggest the journalist fabricated quotations. I hope you’ve got good grounds for saying this.” Well, let's see.

Ian Mayes, Guardian Readers’ Editor, investigated the controversy and wrote: “The Guardian also accepts that and acknowledges that the headline was wrong and unjustified by the text. Ms Brocke’s misrepresentation of Prof Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica stemmed from her misunderstanding of his support for Ms Johnstone.” Note that Mayes is making the distinction between the headline and Brockes’s own “misrepresentation”. Needless to say, Kamm is aware that Brockes’s “misrepresentation” and the headline are two entirely different things. Kamm tries to lump them into the same category so as to make his case. An exceptionally charitable way of reading Mayes’ findings is that Brockes had a hand in the headline. So Kamm has two choices. First, the charitable reading, Brockes had a hand in the headline, which would make his interjection on the very fact that she had no role in it look eccentric. Second, and the more likely meaning of what Mayes writes, accept, as Brockes herself has accepted, that she misrepresented her interviewee.

Nevertheless, we have the report of the External Ombudsman, who says the following: “He [Ian Mayes] was clear that the journalist had been wrong to put the word massacre in quotes and that the headline, which was not the responsibility of Emma Brockes, had not been a direct question.” Again, two different things are being discussed, and in the first (the issue of the word massacre) Brockes fabricates a quote. Case closed.

Moving on to the crucial aspect of “misrepresentation”, Mayes wrote: “At the time the correction was published, the author of the interview, Emma Brockes, her immediate editor, Ian Katz, and Noam Chomsky, the complainant, all expressed their acceptance of the way in which the matter had been dealt with and resolved.” Mayes goes on to write that “The Guardian journalists have repeated their acceptance of the correction in conversations with me in the past few days.” The External Ombudsman report says the following: “Emma Brockes felt that he [Ian Mayes] was ‘professional and did everything by the book. He consulted all of us. His independence was not compromised’. Ian Katz, Editor of G2, confirmed, ‘Emma and I signed off at each stage of the correction process’. That is to say, on at least three occasions Brockes has accepted that she “misrepresented” Chomsky. Kamm, however, does not believe that Brockes misrepresented Chomsky. Kamm knows better than Brockes.

The External Ombudsman’s report is very telling in the following instance: “The Readers’ Editor does not enjoy legal privilege. He risked being sued by the original complainant or possibly Emma Brockes if he got his correction wrong.” That is to say, the correction was not wrong.

The external ombudsman concludes: “The Readers’ Editor was right to conclude that an apology and correction was deserved. The journalists involved agreed. This was a serious matter. He was also right, on the evidence sent to him, that the substantive complaint from Messrs. Aaronovitch, Kamn and Wheen about Professor Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica should be rejected and that therefore the original correction should stand.” Quite so. According to Kamm, however, the journalists involved, the Readers’ Editor and the External Ombudsman are all wrong. But then we should not be surprised. Even after Brockes apologised to Chomsky for misrepresenting him, Kamm wrote that he was “delighted to report that Emma Brockes has been shortlisted for Interviewer of the Year in the British Press Awards,” specifically noting the Chomsky interview. That is the Kamm standard.

(Note: This is a slightly altered version of a post I made on Steven Poole's blog Unspeak.)

1 comment:

AN said...

I don't understand why Kamm is flogging this horse.