Adds 2 I’d completely forgotten about this until Ben Brogan Pol Ed of the Mail’s blog reminded me. (Had a CRAP moment – can’t remember a fucking thing). Peston was sort of blamed because one of the bank chiefs who met the Chancellor last Monday night blabbed the fact to him. This caused the markets to tumble to their lowest yet and precipitated the whole £400 billion package. Quite the most expensive leak in history. It gives you a good idea, writ very large, of the pressures specialist correspondents come under. You cope by playing a very straight bat.
Adds. I add this personal assessment of the BBC’s coverage of the financial crisis by its Economics Editor Hugh Pym, who’s doing the job while Evan Davis’s successor Stephanie Flanders is on maternity leave ( job details in response to query below).
The BBCs superb Business Editor Robert Peston was always bound to attract the snipers. Someone so consistently on top of the story was never going to get away with it. Any professional controversialist like Peter Hitchens in the Mail is sometimes bound to be stuck for a line on a big story but this is a particularly feeble one as if the pension funds are going to be wiped out by Peston having a bead that is, a few minutes ahead of the pack on any particular episode. The fact is that a senior reporter for a huge outlet like the BBC attracts information as much as he seeks it. Yes, it’s possible to detect the hand of the Treasury in some of his reports rightly and inevitably. The Chancellor has been slammed for speaking too much or too late and has been criticised for both. Information has to be obtained somehow and Peston’s sources stretch well beyond the official. So how responsible ought anyone in Pestons position to be ? Peter Jay, a former economics (not business) editor for the Times and the BBC, says Peston bears a huge responsibility. “Any journalist has to consider what the consequences of his actions will be, and if they will have an anti-social result.” Jay, the extremely clever son of a cabinet minister, former Treasury mandarin, later ambassador to Washington and speech writer for his then father-in-law James Callaghan was for most of his career more of a player than a reporter. For the BBC he was virtually invisible for years. The story is told of Jay (possibly apocryphally but very plausibly) that he put down a colleague, telling him that one of his articles on monetarism was intended to be understood by just two people and you are not one of them. In part, it was Jay’s extremely rarefied handling of the brief that revealed the glaring need to appoint a Business editor to tap into a private sector that was extremely coy about explaining itself. The banks were the most secretive, disastrously so as we’re now experiencing, and still are, even at this very moment of deep crisis. The idea that in the digital age Peston uniquely possesses a killer fact for any more than a few minutes is absurd. If anything its a shame he was unable to break more scoops much earlier. We might then have been heading for a softer landing. What he does in text and in his own unique form of speech is to make it now, make it fast and make it intelligible. Like our own John Cole, former BBC Political Editor now over 80, whom I last saw in fine form a couple of months ago, Peston breaks all the normal rules of broadcasting but has become a national – and quite possibly an international – treasure.