Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Paxman & the Stealth Edit

(Hope this makes sense - I'm a bit pissed)

Yesterday Newsnight revisited its recent story about the Defence Academy policy paper leak. The director of the academy demanded the right to reply, and Newsnight sent Paxman down to confront him.

From the interview:
Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely: What I want to do is put the record straight about the original Newsnight programme which portrayed research notes from a researcher here at the Defence Academy as an official Ministry of Defence report which it manifestly wasn’t. I was amazed to see the programme and see that what was just raw research notes as being portrayed as the report on Pakistan and the war on terror.

Jeremy Paxman: We didn’t say it was the Ministry of Defence view
Er... are you sure Jeremy? (click to enlarge)

The above story has since been stealth-edited to this:

The time-stamp has not altered. At some point since Wednesday 27 September the BBC changed the phrase “a Ministry of Defence (MoD) report has said” to “a research paper prepared for the Ministry of Defence's Defence Academy says”. Paxman's claim that "We didn’t say it was the Ministry of Defence view" is easier to justify with the updated version. Sneaky move, eh?


Blogger James Barr said...

I take your point but I still thought that interview last night was odd on several fronts.

First the Director's claim, in response to Paxman's question about whether the views in the report reflected the situation on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, that he had "no expertise in this area". This seemed an odd and unconvincing response in that Kiszely served in Iraq.

Second, his argument that the report was simply "raw material". This seemed redundant given his main argument, that the Defence Academy was an academic body not responsible for policy making. It made him sound like he was protesting too much.

Third, the time that has lapsed since the original report, and this rebuttal. Why have 12 days passed. Anyone who has worked in politics knows that rebuttal is only effective if it is instant. If the MOD's case was so strong, why wasn't it wheeled out earlier? It looks more like Sir John Kiszely was instructed by his political superiors to go on Newsnight.

In any case, the really interesting revelation in the memorandum, that the British have been trying to negotiate a withdrawal from Iraq to concentrate on Afghanistan, seems unaffected.

9:39 am  
Blogger DFH said...

Kiszely had a point about how the BBC originally portrayed the policy paper but he wasn’t really up to a Paxman cross-examination. There were revelations which were clearly embarrassing for the MoD, and I bet Kiszely has been chewed out by his superiors over the incident. I agree it’s odd that the attempted rebuttal has taken so long.

11:02 am  
Blogger DFH said...

Having just watched the interview again (sober) I feel I’ve done Kiszely a disservice in my previous comment. He actually made his point well and dealt with the petulant and disingenuous line of questioning posed by Paxman in a robust manner. And in the intro to the interview Paxman says that the MoD invited Newsnight to the Defence Academy after the original report had been broadcast - the delay was probably due to the fact that the Lieutenant General had to fit in with Paxman’s far more important schedule.

12:58 pm  
Blogger peterbarron said...

The time stamp isn't altered because the error was corrected almost immediately. This piece was the BBC News website's write-up of the Newsnight story. I checked it while we were still on the air with the original story on 27 September, spotted the mistake and rang the web team to point it out. So this was a swift correction, not a subsequent stealth edit.

Peter Barron
Editor, Newsnight

12:06 pm  
Blogger DFH said...

Thanks for replying.

The original BBC website version of the story was up long enough for me to copy and paste it into this blog post. I suppose the webpage could still have been in my cache, or I could have begun a post and returned to it a few hours later - I don't recall. Then again, I suppose the BBC web team could have been a little tardy responding to your call. Whatever the reason, perhaps a "Corrections and Clarifications" section for the BBC News website would make these misunderstandings less likely.

(Just out of interest, when did the Defence Academy request a right to reply?)

5:09 pm  
Anonymous Catherine said...

I think the general made his point well and Paxman's redundancy irritated me more than Kiszely's.

I doubt a BBC man has a far more important schedule than Sir John's who I believe was in Washington shortly after Newsnight put that up so I hope that was a joke.

3:49 am  

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