It's always hard to know whether a few bad apples are just a few bad apples, or if the whole orchard would benefit from being burnt down. I've been thinking about this kind of thing all week. It's tempting to draw conclusions based on those people we do see being caught out, or think we see being caught out - but it might end up with us extrapolating too far.
A lot of the threads overlap with bad apples this week, but let's start with cricket. The News of the World exposes Pakistan cricketers as being bad apples - or at least, that's the conclusion we're being invited to draw on the basis of the evidence in front of us. We're told it's 'match fixing' even though it isn't; we're invited to think that a bizarre Test defeat some months ago may have been to win some money off a few bookies somewhere.
If players have accepted money to do anything other than try to win a game, that's a breach of their contracts, a breach of the public's trust, and a breach of the bond between sportspeople and the country or team they represent. But taking bets on no-balls doesn't prove that (a) there are any bookmakers anywhere who'd be dumb enough to take a bet on a no-ball in the second ball of the third over, or whatever, thinking "Gee, I don't know why you'd want to bet on something so random, but I don't mind paying out if you happen to be unexpectedly right!" or (b) that it indicates that any other kind of deception or more serious stuff like match-throwing is taking place.
We might want to draw that conclusion, but can we? Should we? It's easy for people to tell us that there are seedy bookies in smoky rooms in Lahore who'll take bets on anything, but evidence of the existence of this has yet to come to light. Everyone seems to assume these bookies exist, but do they? And why the hell would they take bets on specific no-balls? You could argue that this was simply to prove that the players were under the fixer's control so he could fix other, more serious, stuff in the future - but we'll never know about that, because the whistle has already been blown.
We'll never know if the more serious fixing could have been arranged or not. All we know is the as-yet unproven allegation that players delivered no-balls of no consequence to the outcome of a match in return for what is, for them, an absolutely enormous sum of money. Footballers have happily punted the ball into touch for cash in the past. So why is this any different? Only if you assume that more serious fixing has gone on, and will go on. But the evidence isn't there for that - not now. Perhaps there are further revelations that will come out and explain it - perhaps the News of the World on Sunday will flesh it out a bit more.
Is it widespread, match-fixing or spot-betting-fixing? Are these Pakistan cricketers, if guilty, just a few bad apples? Or are they just the tip of the iceberg? What conclusions can we draw?
The other players in this, the News of the World, have come under the microscope again this week for phone-hacking and underhand tactics to try and get stories. So how credible are they in all this, and how trustworthy should we see them as being? I would urge you to read this post by Five Chinese Crackers which looks at the links between the police and the papers - and how the papers which are the most keen to do Plod a favour are coincidentally the ones with every need to be treated leniently by the cops when it comes to their own newsgathering techniques.
One reporter, as we know, has been suspended by the News of the World. But here's the thing: if they want us to draw the conclusion that a couple of cricketers are symptomatic of something worse, rather than individual naivety or greed or whatever, then how can they expect us to look at them in any other way? Are we really meant to think that there are a succession of News of the World hacks, all independently using underhand methods to find stories and invade people's privacy, never sanctioned by anyone at a higher level, never having the pertinent questions asked of them by people at a higher level, and that as soon as they're found out, these 'bad apples' are dealt with?
The cricket overlaps with the News of the World - the News of the World overlaps with phone hacking - the phone hacking overlaps with Andy Coulson, the former editor who is now under pressure for whether he knew about these journalistic dark arts or not. And it's Andy Coulson apparently responsible for another of the stories this week - William Hague's fightback against the pitiful rumours about his private life.
I've read all kinds of things attempting to justify the prurient peeking at Hague this week. As ever, a lot of it comes down to the blessed 'taxpayer' who is apparently 'paying out of their pocket' for the special adviser to William Hague, who apparently shared a hotel room with him once (which makes me wonder, would they have been happier if they'd got two separate hotel rooms, at more of a cost to the taxpayer?). The question is, does anyone really need a special adviser? The awful Philippa Stroud, the thankfully rejected parliamentary candidate for Sutton and Cheam at the last general election, who could 'cure' gay people of homosexuality through the power of prayer, is a special adviser. Don't remember so much of an outcry from those same hard-working taxpayers so interested in getting value for money from William Hague's special adviser; I'm sure it was just an oversight.
What's a matter of some certainty in my mind, though, is that the tone of some of the coverage given to the Hague story was pretty pathetic, juvenile and embarrassing, with a nasty homophobic undercurrent running right through it. So much so that I find myself agreeing with Iain Dale for once, when he wrote that he found himself ashamed to call himself a political blogger. In some small way I think I can see it from the point of view of the tainted, for once - when people think of political bloggers they think of Guido, but that makes us all look like the kind of people who'd commission 'hilarious' cartoons of William Hague saying "He comes on expenses!" (guffaw) and then write about stuff in red italics like we've got a bloody crayon, or our readers are too thick to understand simple plain text or something.
It's easy to say there's just a 'bad apple' here and there, in all walks of life. But unless you stand up and call them out then you risk being contaminated by suspicion and by the laziness that everyone has when it comes to categorisation. So are all cricketers corrupt, or all Pakistan cricketers open to a bribe? I'd like to hope not, though we still don't know the full facts. Are all journalists capable of using underhand techniques? Again, I'd like to think the vast majority are principled. And are all bloggers childish idiots? I don't think so. But it doesn't help when some of the most prominent ones are.
No related posts.