Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Lies, damn lies and anonymous briefings

Unattributable briefings are a dark art particularly appreciated by the British establishment, for obvious reasons. Being accountable is, frankly, a pain. You lie, you get found out, you get your facts wrong, you get found out, you defame somebody, you get sued, you propose something totally repugnant, people hate you.

Honestly, you just can't say anything nowadays without some ungrateful journalist, citizen, or citizen journalist wanting to know if it's true and calling you a liar if it isn't, when they should just stop worrying their pretty little heads about such things and be grateful for the carefully prepared the message you've taken such trouble to share with them.

It's clearly intolerable that people in positions of power and responsibility should be constrained by minor details like truth, when there are important news agendas to be manipulated, perceptions to be nudged, awkward facts to be buried.

Thank heaven, then, for unattributable briefings. Get your message out via a journalist who gets a scoop only on the condition that the source of the alleged fact or opinion remains completely anonymous. You might think your statement's uncontroversial enough for an official announcement:

Prime Minister Herod today announced that security contractors, Serco, will be deployed to massacre all first-born children who were born within the M25, on or after December 25th 2011, in order to enhance security at the 2012 Olympic Games. The Prime Minister insisted that these additional measures were 'necessary and proportionate' and followed 'credible intelligence relating to potential acts of terrorism' thought to have been uncovered by members of the security services working within the Magi community.

But what if it doesn't go down too well? If it might make you look bad, you don't want your name all over it. If you'd only floated your plans via an anonymous, deniable, source, you could have whipped out your "Get Out Of Jail Free" card:

The Prime Minister today insisted that the coalition had 'no firm plans' to slaughter London's first-born. The controversial measures were, he insisted, only one of a wide range of options being considered and no firm decision had yet been made. He described rumours of an imminent massacre as 'premature speculation' and said that vocal critics of the baby-killing policy should 'get their facts straight and wait for an official policy announcement, instead of scaremongering and spreading idle gossip'. Boris Johnson was unavailable for comment.


Anyway, this isn't new, but here's an excellent, if highly depressing, peek through the scary door into the murky world of unattributable briefings:

Alternative link here.

Remember if someone's trying to sell you a used "fact" but you don't know who it belongs to, buyer beware.

Via Boing Boing (related material here and here).