Saturday, 13 September 2014

Stabs in the Dark

Publishing Phil Mac Giolla Bháin’s Downfall – How Rangers FC Self Destructed was my introduction to social media which, hitherto, I’d only been vaguely aware of.

I learned what the term MSM meant and of its disdain for “internet bampots” which betrayed contempt for anyone - journalist or otherwise - not choosing “official” media as a route for their observations, work or indeed, scoops. The MSM attitude reminded me of BBC Radio One’s attitude to Punk Rock in the 1970s when the old guard of Tony Blackburn and the like either ignored Punk Rock or rubbished it, the way their forefathers had rubbished The Rolling Stones, all hoping the inevitable New Waves would sink into the sand to forever be forgotten so that they could continue their comfortable, dry existence. The Internet has provided something akin to Pirate Radio in the digital age. The music played on Radio Caroline was still the real deal. Most New Waves however tend to leave a permanent mark for generations, leaving those who tried to put their fingers in the dyke to stem the flow looking a bit daft in retrospect, washed out even.

Some MSM reporters on Scottish football seemed to grimace en masse when the reporting of Phil Mac Giolla Bháin was referred to on-air or in print. It was like they covered their ears the way Tony Blackburn must have done when he’d heard Anarchy In The UK, as if doing so would make “that racket” go away.  In fact, Mac Giolla Bháin seems to have been air-brushed out of the mainstream history of the Rangers story, becoming The Invisible Journalist. Still, we’ll remember him more than his detractors, just as we remember Anarchy In The UK more than we remember Tony Blackburn. Of course, Mac Giolla Bháin was only invisible to those who chose for whatever reason not to acknowledge his journalistic scoops in breaking the Rangers story in remarkably prophetic fashion.

Was it jealousy that a lone wolf had taken a scoop from under the noses of the pack that accounted for Scottish MSM’s silence while others trumpeted Mac Giolla Bháin’s name from the roof tops, if not the Red Tops? That would have been understandable. However, these journalists had in some cases left the story undeveloped for fear of their “access” to the subject being denied if they ruffled the wrong lamb chops. One wonders what the purpose of journalistic access is if it is not to report on all deeds and misdeeds of public interest, unless there were other benefits outweighing any desire to tell the truth...

All this came back to me recently when I noticed some twitter comments from mainstream journalists regarding Mac Giolla Bháin. After Scottish SMS having maintained a uniform silence, achieved either by coincidence or by design, here were references, however fleeting or disparaging, to The Invisible Journalist. It was like the USSR’s Pravda of the 1980s acknowledging the existence of long-denied dissidents.Was this Perestroika? The ice of silence momentary thawed when one journalist tweeted that Mac Giolla Bháin’s journalism was merely “stabs in the dark.” Another’s tweet implied that Mac Giolla Bháin had been mistaken for a journalist when he was really just a fantasist.

That got me thinking. Not whether or not Mac Giolla Bháin’s work was merely “stabs in the dark”. I already knew that wasn’t true. After all, his work had been vindicated far beyond merely the shores of Scottish mainstream sports writers. For instance, The Press Gazette had named Mac Giolla Bháin as the 10th most influential tweeting reporter of 2013. His work had been praised UK-wide by many, including Channel Four’s chief correspondent, Alex Thompson and Professor Roy Greenslade of The Guardian. Thompson in fact wrote the foreword for Mac Giolla Bháin’s Downfall book and Greenslade wrote the definitive article covering the outraged and outrageous reaction to the book and The Scottish Sun’s adoption and then pathetic abandonment of the serialisation of the same book due to intimidation by some Rangers supporters. Throughout this time Mac Giolla Bháin has been an active and respected member of the National Union of Journalists holding several senior positions in that union.  Either all these accolades were for “a fantasist’s” “stabs in the dark” - or for well-respected journalism. 

Let’s check the facts;
Mac Giolla Bháin in April 2010 broke the story that spelt out the arithmetic of the Big Tax Case at Rangers.
In November 2010, Mac Giolla Bháin broke the Dallas email story.
In January 2011 Mac Giolla Bháin’s published his scoop on RFC offering to settle BTC for £10M - this was confirmed in 2012 when FTT published result.
In June 2011 Mac Giolla Bháin’s piece on Craig Whyte being no billionaire and using Season Ticket money was published. This at a time when real “fantasists” were describing Whyte as possessing “wealth off the radar”.
In August 2011 Mac Giolla Bháin published his scoop on Sheriff Officers at Ibrox, having his own photographer there.
In October 2011 Mac Giolla Bháin predicted that RFC would run out of money that month - vindicated by Craig Whyte in interview one year later. Whyte’s Rangers stopped paying tax. Mac Giolla Bháin’s reporting was correct again. Rangers did run out of money in the October.
In January 2012 Mac Giolla Bháin was predicting imminent insolvency.
In February, once in Administration Mac Giolla Bháin reported that there was no chance of CVA and that liquidation would take place.
In June 2012 Mac Giolla Bháin’s “stab in the dark” hit the target again.
In the Postscript to Downfall Mac Giolla Bháin sketched out the dangers of insolvency for new entity as they tried to pay topflight wages with bottom tier revenues.

Enough of a track record there, wouldn’t you say, to qualify Mac Giolla Bháin as a “proper” journalist? Despite this, as witnessed by the recent Twitter Glasnost, there are those who’s faltering attempts to have a go at the invisible journalist inevitably see them falling flat on their faces. Interestingly, another of their number asked Twitter users to “lay off” one of the Pravda brigade who was getting a bit of metaphorical kicking. What a shame that such Good Samaritans were generally absent when Mac Giolla Bháin’s editor of Downfall was having her life threatened, among other abuse. That shameful lack of support was reminiscent not so much of a stab in the dark as a stab in the back.

If all Mac Giolla Bháin’s scoops are a fantasist’s stabs in the dark then Mac Giolla Bháin is a blind-folded knife-thrower you could bet your life on.  Or, perhaps, he’s just an old fashioned journalist, basing his reporting on solid sources, factual evidence with a fearless, loud and unrepentant attitude. Eat yer heart out, Tony Blackburn.

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