Guido Fawkes likes to style himself as a bottle-throwing avenger of the internet. No party, no loyalties, nothing but unconstrained contempt for the people in charge and a free-ranging vocabulary of abuse. It’s part of his MO to deny any editorial responsibility for what appears on his site: the comments go unmoderated, even the cartoons he runs get shrugged off as being someone else’s work. (Although maybe that’s just because they’re pisspoor and hideous, and even mendacious polemicists aspire to good taste sometimes.)
He knows what makes him successful: gutter gossip, thrown out wide and quick. It doesn’t matter that most of it doesn’t stick. All he has to do is keep up the fiction of distance from what he produces, which he does in both relatively unsophisticated ways (that arch third-person voice) and bludgeoningly unsophisticated ways (the only time I’ve tangled with him in a comments thread, Staines made a point of denying everything, including things that could be obviously verified and things that hadn’t even been attributed to him).
It’s not exactly an impenetrable fortress of logic, but it works. And it worked well enough on William Hague a few weeks ago, when the ‘Is he shagging his SpAd?’ insinuations that Guido picked up from a piece in the Mail found their way back into the paper that started them – amplified and reinforced by their time out in the wild, even if the men-share-hotel-room story hadn’t picked up any sort of supporting evidence in that time.
Next Left suggests that the rumour has the aspect of a fit-up job: someone was out to get Hague. And, curiously, Guido’s story does name someone who fits the bill as a disgruntled employee:
Eyebrows were raised at CCHQ when William Littlejohn, Hague’s well connected and respected press officer for the last two years, was passed over in favour of Myers – who is currently in hiding from the press. Littlejohn was left effectively jobless after the election until Andy Coulson found him a job with Caroline Spelman. You couldn’t make it up…
That “couldn’t make it up” flouish is because William Littlejohn is the son of Richard Littlejohn, couldn’t-make-it-upper-in-chief at… the Mail. Is it ethical for a newspaper to smear and abuse someone like Myers who could be perceived to have benefited at the expense of its own star columnist’s offspring? Erm, probably not. Is it ethical for said star columnist to write a column about the rumours, criticising Hague for “spilling the beans on the series of miscarriages suffered by his wife Ffion”, and not acknowledge his son’s tangential involvement in the story? Erm, again, probably not.
But the point isn’t that Guido is acting in the interests of an undefined internal source. Of course he is – he’s a gossip blogger. More interesting (and at the same time also grindingly boring) is that this is one of those times when you can see high-profile blogger and mass-circulation paper acting in concert to get a story going. In my experience, Guido’s statements are always determined more by what’s useful to him than what’s actually true; that’s worth remembering whenever he claims to be outside the media and beyond party politics.
Text © Sarah Ditum, 2010