The Guardian has published the results of an investigation into its own coverage of ‘Traingate‘. And the probe, carried out by Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick, details a catalogue of reporting errors on The Guardian‘s part which “generated the controversy” around the incident.
In essence, Chadwick admits that if his publication had done its job properly, the ‘-gate’ in Jeremy Corbyn’s train journey would never have happened.
On 16 August, The Guardian published exclusive footage of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a Virgin train carriage. The story detailed the Labour leader’s inability to find a seat on the “ram-packed” train. It ran with the headline “Corbyn joins seatless commuters on floor for three-hour train journey”.
But the suggestion that Corbyn was unable to find a seat for the entire journey was quickly rebuked when Virgin’s owner Richard Branson released CCTV footage showing Corbyn obtaining a seat further into his trip.
Now, Chadwick has acknowledged that The Guardian knew this crucial fact from the very beginning, but chose to omit it from the story.
The footage was provided to the media outlet by the film-maker Yannis Mendez, who was working for Corbyn’s campaign at the time. After filming the incident, Mendez had his friend Anthony Casey put together still images and text to accompany the video.
Casey, who writes under the pseudonym Charles B Anthony, was the co-author of The Guardian‘s report. He had explicitly told the organisation that “halfway through the journey the train emptied and Corbyn and his team managed to grab some seats”.
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Casey’s reason for Corbyn managing to get seats turned out to be wrong, but the fact that the Labour leader eventually did get a seat was correct. The Guardian chose not to include it in the story. And as Chadwick points out, even after that detail had been well established, the inaccurate headline was allowed to remain for some time.
It was this detail that largely allowed commentators to paint Corbyn as a ‘fraud’ over the incident. Had The Guardian included it, Branson’s retaliatory CCTV footage may not have emerged, and the furore around the episode would have likely been avoided.
Reporting 101: check your sources
Chadwick’s investigation also found that The Guardian had been careless on other fronts. Although Mendez was known to some staff, Casey was “an unknown quantity”. According to Chadwick, the text he provided to the organisation was clearly written in “praise” of the Labour leader, and left “no doubt he was a partisan for Corbyn”.
Nevertheless, Chadwick asserts, the material “seems to have been viewed more as unpolished journalism than untreated promotion”.
Concerns were raised by staff when they discovered Casey was not on the train journey himself. But in The Guardian‘s “rush-to-publish”, those concerns were not shared correctly or acted upon. Chadwick concludes:
Although the Guardian did not intend to mislead readers, that was the effect for some time. Its pre-publication checks and balances failed in some respects. Post-publication, it was not quick enough to fix what it could, and to explain.
Had the Guardian done so, the episode may not have generated the controversy which acquired that exhausted suffix, -gate.
It is commendable that The Guardian has publicly admitted its wrongdoing. But in the future, let’s hope it bases its choices around foresight rather than hindsight. Traingate consumed the front pages for too long. It may have fed a hostile media hungry for the chance to attack Corbyn, but it distracted the public from truly important developments.
With the media’s great power comes even greater responsibility. It’s high time those working in it acknowledge that. And act on it.
– Read more Canary articles on the state of the UK’s media.
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– Follow the work that the Media Reform Coalition are doing.
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