Published in the Guardian this morning.
There is a nice irony in Roger Alton's huffing and puffing about my book, Flat Earth News (Interview, September 22). The book tries to track the scale and origin of falsehood, distortion and propaganda in news media. One of its central themes is the ease with which the PR industry now manipulates journalists. One of PR's regular techniques is to try to bury true stories with a "non-denial denial", ie a statement which has no value at all but which serves to mislead.
Roger replies to the revelations about his problems at the Observer by saying: "You can accuse me of incompetence, of being a shitty journalist or a shallow halfwit, but to say I would deliberately lie about stuff and manipulate information - nothing could be further from the truth."
It just so happens that "deliberate lying" is precisely what the book does NOT accuse him of. What the book describes is how, in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Roger was manipulated directly by Downing Street and indirectly through key reporters by intelligence agencies and Downing Street again. The result was that he published mighty falsehoods because he thought they were true and failed to publish true stories because he thought they were false. Deliberate lying does not come into it.
The manipulation of the Observer in the cause of war happened. It needs an explanation. A lot of Roger's readers might think it needs an apology. What it doesn't need is for the editor of a national newspaper who has been such a spectacular victim of PR to adopt its tactics.
Nick Davies, London
Nick Davies wrote Flat Earth News.
The Original Interview.
What advice would he [Alton] have for young pretenders keen on getting to the top of his own profession? Not enter it, he chuckles. "Take up photography ... sell luxury goods. Maybe chocolate, people always want little treats, like the £1 Independent."