Tim Tate

Author, Film-Maker & Investigative Journalist


The Truth Shall Make You Free Fret


There is a sickness eating away at the slowly-rotting cadaver of British journalism. It’s not the recent malaise of tabloid phone hacking nor the older plague of cheque-book journalism. It is the creeping disease of ‘Columnism’.


Most of what were once called broadsheet newspapers (forget the tabloids) now fill their middle pages with the scribblings of famous, or semi-famous columnists, who – so the theory goes – enlighten the rest of us with their profound insights and deep thinking.


Two problems here:


  • They don’t. What they deliver is all too often a recitation of their own prejudices. Which are published without the benefit of fact checking or even basic research.


  • Their output is considered serious journalism – and thus both enters and influences public opinion. (There’s no other reason for their columns to exist.) But THEY ARE NOT JOURNALISTS (upper-case shouty emphasis deliberately added).


The winner of today’s prize for egregious, opinionated and utterly ill-informed nonsense is Dominic Lawson, son of the Thatcherite chancellor, brother of ‘celebrity chef’ Nigella.  His (habitually fact-free) Sunday Times column – positioned next to the paper’s own editorial comment – castigates investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse by celebrities[1].


This is neither a surprise nor a problem: Lawson has previously made clear his opposition to the investigation of historic CSA allegations. And he’s perfectly entitled to his opinion.


Unfortunately, he supports his argument with a reference to the “so-called Satanic abuse cases of Cleveland and Orkney”. And for good measure he claims that children making disclosures in Cleveland “were actually manipulated by professionals with a doctrinal attachment to lurid and fashionable theories”.


These are statements of alleged fact. And both are utterly false.


There were absolutely no claims of satanic abuse in the 1987 Cleveland child abuse crisis.  None. And the official inquiry report (Butler-Sloss, 1988) contained nothing to support his entirely false allegation of professionals “manipulating” children into disclosures. (For the record: not merely was there absolutely no evidence of this, but many of the affected children were pre-verbal and so could not have been manipulated into making false allegations.)


I have e-mailed Mr. Lawson and the Sunday Times to point out these mistakes. When – if – either replies, I’ll post the responses here. However, readers are advised that breath-holding is contra-indicated in such cases.


In the meantime, perhaps someone could suggest a new collective term for “columnists” (along the line of a flock of sheep).   An Ignorance, perhaps ?


[1] “In this rush to believe abuse claims we destroy both justice and lives”. (Article behind paywall)


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