Oat in the cold: How The Sunday Times published political anti-fan fiction about Jeremy Corbyn

... but don't worry because almost every UK journalist with a verified checkmark says it's fantastic.

There’s a hack trick particularly beloved of long-form writers in the US who have spent too much time watching Tarantino flicks and reading gonzo journalism from the sixties and early seventies when expensing heroin, benzedrine and enough bourbon to stun an alcoholic bison was seen as entirely reasonable; it’s this:

You start in media res — i.e. in the middle of the action — and then zoom out again to bring the reader into what you’re really talking about. A variant of that approach is to use a lede (an introductory paragraph) that at first seems irrelevant but quickly punches you to the heart of the story. Let’s try that out here:

Gabriel Pogrund was a man in a hurry. With his pal Patrick Maguire, he was co-editor of The Tab London, arguably the flagship franchise for The Tab, a network of online student newspapers that brought tabloid scurrilousness to previously quite dusty competitions between ageing print titles.

I had a catbird seat for the birth of The Tab as its founders, Jack Rivlin, George Marangos-Gilks and Taymoor Atighetchi, worked out of the same office block as I did for a time. They were ruthless and got Rupert Murdoch’s money in recognition of that ruthlessness.

It is from that piratical, swashbuckling, fact-light world that Pogrund and Maguire graduated, finding their way into the ‘mainstream’ by bouncing around national newspapers until they both settled at The Times — which is also now a minority owner of The Tab group — as Whitehall Correspondent and Red Box Reporter respectively. The undynamic duo have also collaborated again on a book about Labour’s campaign during the 2019 General Election.

The book is called Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn and, as you might expect, it benefited on Sunday (23 August 2020) from a double-page spread in The Sunday Times and a front-page plug.

As you also might expect, the political press, in general, circled the wagons to promote and — due to some interesting inconsistencies/errors — defend Pogrund and Maguire. Caping for bad journalists is an absolute mainstay of the British media. If they work for a publication you might want to work for one day or happen to drink in the same circles as you, you’ll dive in to make excuses you’d never make available to an enemy.

It was clear back in February when Bodley Head announced that it had acquired the title, that the book was going to be a highly slanted, almost cartoonish perspective on the most recent period in Labour Party history. If like me, you read The Times or Sunday Times with any regularity, it soon becomes clear that the political teams on those papers draw their sources almost exclusively from the right of the Labour Party.

The extract of Left Out… never strays from the right-wing perspective and framing that says nothing Jeremy Corbyn did was good, nothing was competent, and the failure of the party is entirely to do with him and his inner circle.

The notion that Labour MPs who consistently attacked and undermined their only leader played some role along with bad faith attacks by the media, as well as the undeniably disgraceful and toxic antisemitism scandal, does not really get a hearing in the published extracts. Already one incident — a debate around so-called ‘embarrassing’ footage of Jeremy Corbyn and his wife Laura Alvarez during a photo opportunity with some oatcakes — has been revealed to be quite different to the picture painted by Pogrund and Maguire.

ITV News, alleged in the article printed in the newspaper to have acquiesced to Labour’s demand to suppress the ‘embarrassing’ footage, has already come out and said that didn’t happen, requiring a correction:

If such a minor anecdote is wrong, it does start to raise suspicions that the authors, schooled in the ‘skirt the line of truth and legality until it is a mere chalk smudge in the mud’ methods of The Tab may not have been entirely careful about their gossip sourcing for the book. Certainly, there is not a single line in the published extract that does not strain every sinew to make Corbyn seem wrong and his right-wing critics within the party sound like beautiful visionaries.

And, of course, Matt Chorley, Times Radio presenter and creator of the most embarrassing video in media history, is chief among the defenders of The Sunday Times piece, peacocking around to boast about his brilliant jokes during Corbyn’s Labour leadership and how he was ‘right’ all along:

Chorley’s time as a parliamentary sketchwriter was dark. His new life as an upbeat mid-morning propagandist is even darker as befits our descent into the worst of all possible timelines, where robot David Camerons will fuck robot pigs as a replacement for all the ‘trappings’ of society that the Tory party abolished.

Pogrund and Maguire’s book — on the basis of the available extracts, at least — appears to be yet more political anti-fan faction, designed from day one to find the worst possible explanation for everything and to largely ignore the apparent reality that Labour insiders worked consistently to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and prevent a Labour government. And that’s insiders from both wings of the highly dysfunctional organisation.

I will, masochist that I am, read the book in its entirety before I offer a final judgement, but it is certainly clear that the extract was littered with half-truths spun by people covering their own arses and bad faith interpretations.