Monday, March 06, 2006

Conclusively Right: the politics of book reviewing

Andrew Marr’s book about journalism Our Trade was reviewed widely in the mainstream media. It gave a highly enthusiastic response. For example, Roger Alton swooned over Marr's previous achievements and claimed the current work is "one of the best books about journalism I've read".

Alton also asks what most of us want to know: how does Marr do it? He wrote the book while he was still the BBC's chief political correspondent, meaning he'd be seen by news bulletin viewers reporting from the Palace of Westminster almost every day and night. Marr mitigates the impression of superhuman powers by admitting the book consists of six discrete "reflexive and relaxed" essays. It was probably written on the fly or in a conservatory somewhere. Nice then that his chums think so highly of the book to give it such wide coverage and ideal blurb quotations.

I remember when Marr joined the Beeb. He announced that, despite previous closeness to New Labour, his "Organs of Opinion [had been] formally removed". Evidence for the success of the operation came after the statue of Saddam was pulled down by a crowd in Baghdad. Live on the BBC he observed:
Well, I think this does one thing - it draws a line under what, before the war, had been a period of... well, a faint air of pointlessness, almost, was hanging over Downing Street. There were all these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history. Mr Blair is well aware that all his critics out there in the party and beyond aren't going to thank him - because they're only human - for being right when they've been wrong. […] I don't think anybody after this is going to be able to say of Tony Blair that he's somebody who is driven by the drift of public opinion, or focus groups, or opinion polls. He took all of those on. He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result. (April 9, 2003)
A surgeon somewhere should be struck off.

Curious then, that a new book about journalism, which has been called by a legendary journalist "the most important book about journalism I can remember", has yet to find a reviewer in the mainstream press. David Edwards - one of the authors - takes up the story, including correspondence with Boyd 'Not this time, thanks' Tonkin, literary editor of Marr's old paper The Independent.

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