Cockburn’s objectivity

 Back to the hoary old subject of objectivity in journalism. The BBC’s John Simpson raised it in his Radio 4 series on journalism this week. He used an example often use in teaching. It goes back to the Spanish Civil war.

Cockburn’s conundrum

Claude Cockburn, the left-wing journalist, cooked up a fake report of an insurrection against the right-wing army in Spanish Morocco. There was a train full of artillery on the French border which could be shipped the Spanish Republican side. If the French Prime Minister, a left winger, could be persuaded to turn a blind eye to it, then the guns could be delivered for a crucial battle then underway.

The guns got through

A delegation from the Republican side was to meet Blum the next day. The French night editors loved Cockburn’s piece of fiction and ran it at length. Blum got the message and allowed the guns through. The Republicans won the battle.

But lost the war. And to many, when revealed later, Cockburn lost his integrity as a result. Cockburn’s was partisan lying, rather than objective journalism.

What would you have done? You a reporting on the attempted overthrow by fascist military of a democratically-elected government after the rise of Hitler and fascism in Italy.

If you know me you know what I hope I would have been brave enough to do.


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