Updated: Oct 12, 2021
In this blog we feature a tribute by Media Lens to “the impossible” Peter Oborne. In early February, he published a book called "The Assault on Truth", a massive indictment of both Boris Johnson and of British journalists' coverage of him. With example after example, this Conservative journalist shows that Johnson lies and fabricates, but more importantly that the mainstream British press has colluded with those lies, while at the same time engaging in a relentless smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.
But the most interesting part of the Media Lens article is what it says about the mainstream Media’s response to Oborne’s book. Instead of engaging seriously with its evidence and arguments, most of the media including the Murdoch press, DMG Media (the Mail and other titles), the Telegraph group, and mainstream broadcasters simply ignored it. They exercised their power of silence. By contrast the relatively "liberal" Guardian, Observer and Independent did review it, but gave very limited coverage to Oborne's searing critique of the newspapers, while the Observer trashed him with an account that Media Lens shows to be riddled with inaccuracies.
It is hardly surprising that Oborne is finding himself to all intents and purposes barred from the mainstream British media, though he remains busy writing books and for online publications like Middle East Eye and openDemocracy. This says much about the financial and other incentives bearing on the journalistic profession and harks back to the furore that Nick Davies faced after he had revealed the length and breadth of the hacking scandal (see Hack Attack, 2014). The then editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, reports how the elders of Fleet Street could never forgive Davies, and that the Daily Mail responded to his book by reprinting a long News Statesman article denouncing him as “a media-hating zealot” and “the Man who Did for the British Press”. However, unlike Peter Oborne, Davies was fortunate to enjoy the unwavering support of the Guardian which had supported his investigations.
It should be remembered that this happened after Davies did an inestimable service to the country, in revealing the hacking scandal and (in the words of Alan Rusbridger) writing "a book about power – and how one media company (News UK) had begun to frighten and corrupt so many corners of British life". He fully deserved a knighthood, though who knows if he would have accepted.
Media Lens sums up its view of Oborne’s contribution by saying that “this was a vanishingly rare opportunity for the public to witness a media insider making a complete nonsense of the myth promoted by the BBC’s leading client journalist Andrew Marr; namely, that journalism is ‘a crusading craft’ run by ‘disputatious, stroppy, difficult people’ relentlessly challenging power”. We should add in defence of Marr that he made this statement back in 1996; we can only hope that the scales are falling from his eyes.