Nick Robinson was the focus of ridicule among his Lobby colleagues last night after he yet again lifted a newspaper journalist’s story and claimed it as his own. “BREAKING”, he tweeted, the three major parties would reject a currency union with an independent Scotland, “the BBC has learned”. Just one problem, Nick Watt at the Guardian had broken the story some 21 hours earlier.
BREAKING…BBC learns that 100 mile an hour winds could hit Britain tonight….—
Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) February 12, 2014
Several Lobby journalists have since been in touch with MediaGuido to express their increasing frustration at Robinson claiming stories broken elsewhere as his own, attributing them instead to “BBC sources”. It is a running joke that BBC news broadcasts consistently refuse to credit other news organisations – putting up ‘Breaking News – the BBC has learned’ graphics half an hour after it was on Sky - but Robinson telling readers that this story was his own has crossed the line. One hack notes his regular surprise to see lines from government or opposition press releases (emailed out to every Westminster journalist at the same time) reported as “a Tory/Labour source tells me” on the News at Ten. The fact he is “never around” is hardly helping his popularity either. BBC head of news James Harding is cracking the whip demanding exclusives from his political team, Robbo seems to be feeling the pressure.
When MediaGuido spoke to Nick Watt last night, he wanted to stress that “I hold Nick in the highest regard” and suggested we take a look at the high volume of critical tweets from Lobby journalists to gauge how other hacks feel. Despite Robinson confessing to reading the Guardian story first, last night’s News at Ten again fibbed “our political editor Nick Robinson broke the story”. Tut tut…
Back in January 2007 around the time police were arresting Blair’s Downing Street aides over “Loans for Lordships”, Guido ran a story about a secret second unofficial email system in Downing Street used to discuss the sleazy trade in honours. The Lobby pack were very excited by this and followed it up by asking Tom Kelly the then Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) about it at the morning Lobby briefing on Friday, January 26. Tom Kelly explicitly denied the story:
Asked if there was any secret e-mail system in the Prime Minister’s Office, the PMOS said, as we had said last night, there was no secret e-mail system, there was full cooperation with the police, there was no e-mail as described on ITV news last night, and as we had said, the police had not asked us about any of these matters. Asked why the PMOS was now commenting on this investigation, the PMOS said this was so wrong it would have been totally misleading not to comment.
Asked if there had been any arrests of people in Downing Street, the PMOS said no. Asked if there were a separate e-mail address such as some using the letter X and some not, the PMOS said no. Asked if people had ‘Hotmail’ accounts at Downing Street, the PMOS said because of security access to such e-mails accounts was not allowed. The police had had full access to everything they wanted. The fallacy was that in someway Downing Street had not cooperated with the police, that was not true.
The following day Guido ran a follow-up disputing the Lobby briefing in no uncertain terms. Guido knew that Downing Street staffers had access to web based accounts from inside No. 10 because they were using them to leak to the blog – Guido had (to confirm authenticity) tracked the emails back to a source which matched the Internet Protocol address for Downing Street. The Lobby was divided as to whether to believe Guido’s story or the PMOS.
At the next Lobby briefing on Monday, January 29 the Lobby again questioned the PMOS on the matter at length:
Put that we had “rubbished” any idea of alternative computer networks, but the Mail on Saturday and “Guido Fawkes” website had both claimed that they had evidence of alternative email networks in No10 that linked up to the Labour Party, the PMOS said that we stood by what we said to ITN. There was only one email system at No 10.
Asked if it would be possible for someone to “hop on” using a No 10 computer onto the Labour Party network, the PMOS said again that there was only one email system at No 10.
Asked further questions about the possibility of an external server, or the possibilities of sending Labour Party emails, and did only one system allow for more than one email address, the PMOS repeated that there was only one email system in No 10. As the PMOS said on Friday, people in No. 10 could not access hotmail, gmail etc because of security reasons, and he was not aware of anyone who had more than one email address.
Asked if people could send political emails from the No. 10 account, the PMOS replied that he was not going to get into the details of the system. The claim that was put to us was that there was more than one system, and there is not. There is only one, and the police have had access to everything that went through the system.
An absolutely explicit denial that there was any access to webmail or a second email system. After this Guido seems to recall a broadcast by the BBC’s Nick Robinson – at his most patronising – rubbishing Guido’s story as a crazy conspiracy theory. Guido demanded that the PMOS correct himself at the next Lobby briefing. No correction or apology was forthcoming.
This morning Damian McBride, a former Downing Street head of communications for the PM, recalled his first day moving into No. 10:
In hushed tones, I was shown the ‘stand-alone computer’ through which No10 staff could use personal email accounts which were otherwise blocked by the Downing Street servers. “We don’t discuss this publicly,” I was told, “we don’t want people going on about ‘second Downing Street email systems’”.
Never believe anything until it is officially denied…
It’s hard being Nick Robinson. Instead of queueing with the rest of the media for Murdoch’s 11am appearance in front of the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, he had a proxy waiting outside the committee room. It seems your licence money is now paying for Soviet Union style proxy queuers.
Nick Robinson will be reflecting on his career at the Frontline Club tonight. The invitation reads like some sort of pre-death obituary:
“Showing clips of his work and the work of those journalists who inspired him, Nick Robinson will be remembering the significant milestones in a career that includes stints on On the Record, Panorama and 14 years on the politics beat.”
Ever keen to help out, Guido thought he would dig out one such siginifcant career milestone:
No doubt his famed “David Miliband has won” clip will be played too, right?
Eyebrows were raised and smirks stifled this morning as Nick Robinson was awarded the title of “Blogger of the Year” by Editorial Intelligence. Given that Robinson’s blog consists of someone transcribing what he says on News at Ten and posting it on the BBC website, perhaps someone who puts in at least a little more effort should have been rewarded. Robinson hasn’t had a very good year and admits he must try harder. Missing stories right under his nose, forgetting his lines and quite simply getting the facts wrong. He shared his views on blogging once:
Don’t forget this is the man who said David Miliband had won the Labour leadership live on the BBC just seconds before the actual result was announced. Somehow that transcript wasn’t published…
UPDATE: It appears Will Straw has also vented some spleen about the decision.
UPDATE II: Some of the other winners make a lot more sense, like Quentin Letts for best sketch writer.
To Liverpool’s Gusto restaurant on Tuesday night where the great and good of the BBC political team were loudly dining. Guido’s scouser eyes and ears spotted the full house of Nick Robinson, Laura Kuenssberg, Jon Sopel and James Landsdale.
Having told the waiter that he couldn’t drink anymore because he had to go to work, Robinson darted out at 9.50 to do his piece for the 10 o’clock news, but not before speaking with Laura, furiously scribbling down what she said. 10 minutes later her phone rings and she leapt up and went outside. Apparently it was Nick on the phone asking what he should say, hic, again…
When the Political Editor of the BBC is writing public memos to himself suggesting that he he “must try harder” because he managed to miss the fact the coalition was coming, things aren’t exactly going well. Just like he missed the leadership coups when his sources’s Blackberries were vibrating right under his nose.
Robinson took a month making a documentary about the coalition negotiations before seeing the light, Guido was outlining the contours of the coming coalition before election day. It became blindingly obvious the Tories were not going to get a majority. Is better-late-than-never-Robinson really the best talent that the BBC’s vast news budget can buy?
The race to take over from Robinson is well under-way, this mea culpa should help those vying for the job.
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A confused Nick Griffin says Nigel Farage is a shill for the City, forgetting that City banks want to stay in the EU:
“Farage is a snake oil salesman, but a very good one. His supposed anti-immigration stance is all smoke and mirrors, as is his carefully cultivated image as a ‘man of the people’. The truth is that UKIP is a pro-immigration party that exists to lobby for the interests of the City of London.”