For lunch on Monday I had meatballs with Anthony Barnett, openDemocracy's founder. After discussing various other vital matters, he told me that Peter Oborne had resigned from the Telegraph. “Oh, I missed that”, I replied, between bites. “Well, it's not public... yet”.
It's certainly public now. The revelation here on openDemocracy is our biggest scoop in a long time and its implications for journalism couldn't be more profound. It took me instantly back to sixth form, curled up in a corner with Chomsky's explanation of how corporate power has infiltrated the press. At the time I was a little skeptical. As I read an earlier draft of Oborne's resignation statement on my phone early yesterday morning, I chided my naïve teenage self.
I say an earlier draft because, of course, the article went through a number of iterations. Our editor-in-chief Mary Fitgerald, my co-editor Olly Huitson and me to a lesser extent set about checking every fact in the piece. Each claim which we couldn't stand up, we took out. Peter Oborne knows the Telegraph's nooks and crannies, but we didn't want to leave anything down to 'his word against theirs'. Olly dug through their previous articles, advertising deals and other evidence. Where we couldn't prove something, we deleted or replaced it.
Eventually, we had an article we were happy with. And so we sent it to both the Telegraph, and to HSBC. It was important that they both had a chance to challenge any claims they believed to be false. Both got back – HSBC had no comment, the Telegraph issued a general denial, without challenging any of the specific points we put to them. We quoted their response in full in Oborne's article, and hit publish.
I got home late last night, and caught up with the coverage. It turned out that the Guardian got a slightly longer statement from the Telegraph. They said that our piece was “full of inaccuracy and innuendo”. Which is strange. Because they had every opportunity to point out any specific inaccuracies - and to stop us publishing them.
We're a small outfit here at openDemocracy. We do sometimes make mistakes. But when we do, we apologise, and we correct them. If the Telegraph want to point to anything in Peter Oborne's article which they can convincingly demonstrate is false, then we will happily correct it. Until they do, we aren't going to take any lessons on journalistic standards from the management team at that particular paper.
openDemocracy has launched an urgent appeal to help us keep publishing the stories others won't. Please give whatever you can here and share this widely.