This weekend's supposed oil summit in Jeddah can teach us a lot about journalism, and 'embedded' reporters in particular. As I mentioned yesterday, the BBC face I saw on the lunchtime news yesterday squawked enthusiastically about Saudi Arabia 'taking the lead' over oil prices. Watching the ITN news last night, their reporter was equally chirpy about the prospects and said that maybe Gordon Brown had secured a cut in prices for hard-pressed motorists. It seemed unequivocal: there had been a deal; Saudi Arabia was taking the lead; Brown had gone out there, and prices were coming down.
So it was interesting last night to listen to Radio 4 and hear a reporter, who hadn't been flown out to the first-class luxury of Jeddah, tell a rather different story. According to this desk-bound journalist, who hadn't been 'embedded' with Team Brown or subjected to the delightful press pack hospitality, there hadn't been an agreement or deal at all. According to that reporter, Jeddah had ended with no firm agreement to increase production or decrease prices.
So who's right?
Ordinarily, you'd think the journalist who was actually there was closest to the story - but perhaps on this occasion, being chained to the desk may have been an advantage. No lovely hospitality and being waited on hand and foot; no chance to be briefed on and off the record by Brown's inner circle; no information to go on, other than the bald facts of what did, or didn't, happen.
So Jeddah was a success. Sure, Brown didn't really get what he wanted, but the reporters he'd taken out with him made it sound like he had - which is the next best thing. In the cold light of day it didn't look so rosy, but you can't un-see a news bulletin from a trusted medium, can you?