Alert to the arguments
One of the things the College of Journalism tries to help BBC journalists think about is the kind of question raised by the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, David Rowan, on Today recently.
He was invited on last Friday to talk about a piece in his paper written by the rabbi at Lord Levy's local synagogue, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet. (You have to subscribe to the JC to get more than this summary).
Rabbi Schochet's target was what he called “the blatant nastiness in some of the tabloids and the recent seeming trial by media” of Lord Levy.
He had previously talked about "sinister corners” from where, he argued, the leaks in the cash-for peerages story emanated. And in a TV interview had claimed that “the Jewish community is becoming increasingly more sensitive that there is one Jew, who has been called the most dynamic Jew in Anglo-Jewry, seemingly being hung out to dry here.”
Readers will make up their own minds about Rabbi Schochet's arguments but David Rowan makes an interesting point - and one that all journalists should think about, whether they agree with his conclusion or not - about how key words in the way stories are reported or framed have a significant effect (intended or otherwise) on the understood meaning... even if the words or facts chosen are not, in themselves, in dispute.
David Rowan doesn't accuse the BBC of making such choices in this case - though that doesn't mean BBC journalists should not be alert to the arguments.
In his interview, David Rowan points to such things as the inclusion of Lord Levy's middle name - Abraham - in articles such as this one in the Daily Mail, an inclusion he argues that underlines and emphasises the fact that Michael Levy is Jewish, the son of "devout Jewish" parents.
In the same article, David Rowan points out, we don't learn either the middle name nor the religious affiliation of the two other main players, Ruth Turner and Jonathan Powell.
Rabbi Schochet's article and to some extent David Rowan's appearance - and that of Sir Alan Sugar also on Today - seem prompted by a concern amongst Lord Levy's friends and supporters that he's being turned into the scapegoat for the whole cash-for-peerages affair.
Only time will tell on that. But, David Rowan argues, there is what he calls "a strong tradition" in both British politics and British political fiction of the Jewish "money man" who "comes in from the outside" and makes a convenient scapegoat; in fiction, Trollope's Augustus Melmotte, in history Sir Eric Miller and Joseph Kagan of the Wilson years.
His argument is that these provide a strong pattern into which the media are able to push the Lord Levy story - should they either wish to or unconsciously allow themselves to. And, he hints - though without, it has to be said, explicit evidence - that a guiding hand in the Downing Street "circle" might well be "managing" the story with precisely this in mind.