Monday, July 28, 2014

When people believe what they want to believe

All too often a good story starts to go around, and it is either so entertaining or suits somebody's narrative so well that people want to believe it.

Unfortunately this can mean that the story gets repeated out of context without key details in a way which makes it misleading, or indeed, if it was never true at all.

There have been two examples of stories which appear to be of the former kind this week.

 The first is the suggestion that the new Defence minister, Michael Fallon, blocked a request from Alex Salmond that the Red Arrows should trail Blue and White smoke representing the Scottish Saltire rather than Red, White amd Blue representing the Union flag when they did a flypast at the Commonwealth Games.

Great story which has had people on both sides of the Independence debate blogging and tweeting all sorts of things, but as far as I can tell it's a classic case of making a mountain out of a molehill.

There does appear to have been an informal approach from the Commonwealth Games organisers to the MoD with such a suggestion, but looking at what has been said by all those actually involved - the organisers, the MoD, SNP ministers themseles, and Michael Fallon himself - the facts appear to be that this was nothing to do with SNP ministers, was discouraged before it reached anywhere near the desk of the Secretary of State, and that no formal request was made.

So the "Fallon stands up to Salmond" and "government plays politics with Commonwealth Games" stories suffer alike from the slight problem that both are the product of taking a little nugget of truth and stretching it far beyind what it will really support.

And exactly the same is true of the "Putin's cronies are funding the Tory party" story which had a number of left-wing idiots and story-hungry journalists practically wetting themselves this week.

Most of the people who are peddling this rubbish promptly go quiet and hide behind the libel laws as soon as you challenge them to say who exactly they are talking about, as Justine Picardie, one of the participants in Radio Four's "Any Questions" did in on Friday (rebroadcast on Saturday, and you can listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04b30m3).

But when someone does name a specific example it awlays seems to be a reference to a payment from the wife of a former Russian finance minister.

Howeer, this is a classic case of guilt by association. As I understand it, he fell out with Putin a decade ago: what I know for a fact is that both he and his wife have lived in Britain for about ten years and are now naturalised British citizens.

All donations to the Conservative party are legal and properly declared and the party does not take money from people who are not British citizens.

But of course, people who want to believe ill of the Conservatives will continue to listen to this kind of thing whether it has any justification or not.

It is a good rule of thumb in life that when you hear something you really want to believe, check it out very carefully.

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