The Witchfinder has some concerns about ethical journalism.
Before beginning this article, it is necessary to declare my interests. This is already stated elsewhere, however, cards on the table –
- I am a Conservative blogger (and Party member)
- I know Grant
Having said that, I have criticised Shapps stridently and impartially where appropriate in the past. and I intend to be impartial here.
The reason for my disclosures is that I have made a complaint about the journalist who wrote the Grant Shapps story, Randeep Ramesh, and the Guardian have now confirmed they are looking into it. This story sets out my reasoning as a follow-up from my earlier story, which has now been picked up by the BBC.
When looking into this story earlier I focused on the key issue. Did Shapps do it? Grant did admit to the petty misdemeanour of editing his page a few years ago but that is a big step removed from the allegations made about Contribsx. If Shapps was Contribsx he would have been treacherously bad-mouthing close colleagues in the run up to an election – a sacking offence.
The official motion by Arbcom was vaguely worded –
“4) No evidence has been presented, during the initial sockpuppet investigation or during arbitration, that definitively connects the Contribsx account with any specific individual.”
What did that mean? Was there some evidence but falling short of definitive? A match on the IP between Shapps’ known accounts and Contribsx? Some grounds for suspicion against Shapps that simply fell short? What was in the CheckUser (CU) logs? At first my inquiries got nowhere – just obfuscatory comments. However, after a number of heated inquiries from less helpful functionaries the filing (prosecuting) administrator Risker (who has been very impressive) said the below on an official discussion page for the case (archive link) –
“[…] Bottom line, there was never any CU evidence about the earlier accounts (the allegations came long after there would have been any opportunity to do a check) so there was never going to be a CU link between the original accounts and the current one. There’s also no CU evidence linking anything mentioned in the original SPI with the named account. Let’s call a spade a spade here, there’s no CU evidence, okay? […]”
Far more helpful. There was no evidence in CheckUser and further, Richard Symonds has advanced no adequate explanation to ArbCom. Accordingly, Grant Shapps’ complaint in his statement to the BBC about – “[…] the failure of various media outlets to check even basic facts […]” has some merit.
It follows that the journalist who wrote the Guardian articles concerned Randeep Ramesh needs to explain whether –
- he asked for the CheckUser data before writing his article?
- if not why not?
- if he did ask, was he given it?
- if he was given it why did he write the story?
Mr Ramesh was contacted directly, as well as his editor, and has not commented. Your author has received an email from Chris Elliott, the reader’s editor, who is dealing with the complaint at the request of the Guardian’s Editor-in-Chief Katharine Vine.
At this stage your Inquisitor goes no further, although I reserve the right to comment if the Guardian do not get a move on with their investigation. I will say that it is extremely regrettable that their follow-up article written after the complaint still has basic errors. The Guardian gets the number of people on the committee wrong (it is 15 not 10) and neglects to mention the point made prominently even by the BBC, “Wikipedia said there was no evidence connecting the account with “any specific individual”.”