So Ends Another Week Of Shame For Scotland’s Sporting Press

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Regular readers will know how closely I watch the mainstream media, and how much general contempt I hold many of its members in.

Being a print or broadcast journalist was once a noble calling; that was back when its practitioners knew that, before their fondness for making themselves the story, before they sought to be controversial rather than informative.

Now the professions are filled with hacks, utter jokes who embarrass the whole business on a daily basis. Scotland probably doesn’t have the worst of them – based on the election coverage in the States I’d say the Americans take some beating – but per head of the population it probably has more of these simpletons masquerading in the job than any other country, give or take. At a time when being good at that has never been more important, these people fill me with despair.

Those who write the front pages are more dangerous, by far. The ignorance they feed, that they promote, that they nurture and help grow is lethal. The sports journalists do less harm, but I dread to think of them covering something more substantial.

This past week has seen them at their running worst.

In the last seven days they have spread lies and misinformation.

Tried to publicly humiliate a footballer.

They publishing confidential information that could only have come from one source, and who’s leaking could only have been for one purpose.

They ignored one massive news story entirely, focusing instead on fluff.

On top of that was one of the most skin-crawlingly embarrassing pieces it’s ever been my misfortune to read, and they topped it off with a little hand grenade chucked at a Celtic player, causing his agent to “clarify” matters.

Nir Bitton was sent home by the Israeli national team; that’s a simple fact. The details are sketchy but his agent found he had to remind the press that it was irresponsible to publish half-truths and innuendo instead of facts. Most journalists don’t need to be told that, but those in Scotland have to be frequently reminded of it, often by lawyers in the room.

Nir certainly did something daft. He’s been told he won’t play for the national side again under their current manager; does that remind you of anyone, and a scenario involving a certain player who, until this week, was at Ibrox? Of course it does. But Nir’s agent wasn’t about to let the Scottish press do the hatchet job on his player which they did to another. Besides, Bitton is a model professional with no history of this kind of behaviour.

Nevertheless, it’s clear his representatives know the kind of media culture he experiences here. His intervention stopped the story dead.

That Joey Barton’s had done the same.

This was an extraordinary week in his mad life, the culmination of a saga that’s been dragging on for months now. In the course of it Sevco managed something that I would have hitherto thought absolutely impossible; they actually made a lot of people who otherwise would have sneered at the very idea find sympathy in their hearts for a thuggish cartoon character who’s done time, been in more fights than Mike Tyson, has caused trouble everywhere he’s been and has a mouth that runs like a broken sewer pipe. A guy who had no sooner signed for that club than he was pictured on the pitch at Linfield with a Loyalist flute band.

If someone had told me then that I would actually end up feeling a modicum of compassion – and even some grudging respect – for that guy I would have said they were insane.

Yet here we are, after a period in which the media – duly fed by PR firms and assorted goons from Auchinehowie – launched one of the most astonishing, outrageous campaigns of personal vilification I have seen in the press outside of a particularly vicious criminal case.

The judges who voted to hand the Article 50 decision back to Parliament and were called out on every right wing front page are, perhaps, the only people I’ve seen treated more harshly by the media this year.

Barton’s entire career – which the Scottish hacks had, up until then, tried to pretend hadn’t happened – was raked up and poked over and sifted through, as if there was something in there that we didn’t already know (and hadn’t well warned them about) when the deal was first signed. They found every person who had something negative to say about him – a lot of people, considering the trail of destruction he’s left behind him – and I marvelled at the ten thousand ways they found to question his mental health and character.

This was a full-scale character assassination, and it was more insidious than most because it was clearly inspired with one objective in mind; to get this guy to walk away from an iron clad contract that Sevco could not afford to pay up. It was designed for no other reason than to provoke him into an angry response which would give the club grounds to terminate the deal without owing him money. We were watching a company pressure one of its workers to quit or blow up in a way that would let them fire him … an extraordinary offence against justice, and the media was an all-too willing participant in the sordid affair.

Have you ever know people like these?

The tabloid at the centre of this witch-hunt was, of course, The Daily Record, one of a number of papers which decided to run the story that Barton had “signed off” with stress. That information could only have come from one of two places; it either came from the player himself – unlikely, as I’m sure you’ll agree – or it came from the club. This violation of the most fundamental right to privacy and dignity is scandalous, and it offers a tantalising glimpse into the mind-set at Ibrox right now, one of unrivalled vindictiveness and spite, so much so that they were utterly blinded to the enormous peril that shocking action exposed them to.

The Record didn’t care; they went a step further and ran what, in its way, was an even more malicious attack, when it detailed, gleefully, the lengths the club had gone to in an effort to make the player feel as isolated and humiliated as possible. Again, this was information that could only have come from inside Ibrox, but it’s the obvious relish in the piece that takes your breath away. The Record and Sevco are well suited in this regard.

On top of that, before a deal had been signed they were pushing a story that Barton’s humiliation had been taken a step further, with him accepting a pitiful deal worth a fraction of his current contract. Utter nonsense, as any sensible person could tell.

Anything to make a total reversal from that club look like a win.

You only have to look at the way The Daily Record has utterly ignored the expanded furore over Kenny Miller’s behaviour on and after the night of the Celtic game – fair play to The Sun, anyway, for sticking with that one, but it was their exclusive, after all – to see the shocking double-standard here.

All of this would be bog-standard stuff, strictly par for the course, if they hadn’t also been ignoring a huge news story out of England, which tied Sevco’s Head of Recruitment, Frank McParland, to an age old corruption scandal down there.

The story centres on McParland’s time at Bolton, where he worked alongside Sammy Lee. During that time they got themselves into a bit of bother involving their player, Gavin McCann. An agent, Tony McGill, claimed he had been ripped off by another firm, who claimed to represent the player in dealings with the club, and did him out of a right few quid.

As it turns out, someone decided to solve this problem by – amongst other things – creating a backdated contract and falsifying details of two meetings.

Remember all those career biographies on McParland when he moved to Sevco? They focussed on his time at Liverpool, Watford, Brentford and Burnley. Why were they oddly silent on his time at Bolton? This is why, in a nutshell.

In 2014 – and remember, none of this was in the papers when McParland made his way to Ibrox – McGill won a major legal battle with Lee, McParland, Garsdale and others at Bolton, as well as the rival agency, in the High Court, and at the end of that hearing the judge accused Lee and McParland of lying about the meetings and highlighted other inconsistencies in their statements. They and others immediately appealed.

This week an appeal court judge answered them, by delivering a final verdict in the McGill case – he won, £300,000 in damages – again accusing Lee and McParland, amongst others, of fabricating evidence. If the CPS decides to file charges – not impossible; in September 2015, the CPS dropped its original case against them – then Sevco’s head of recruitment is toast. Either way, he’s now been branded a perjurer in two separate legal cases.

Sammy Lee, who’s now part of the England setup, has already been finished by this. On the back of the judge’s ruling, the media down there is calling for him to follow Sam Allardyce out the door of Wembley, as someone too tainted to stay in post. One suspects that now the Scotland game is behind them, the FA will move quickly.

McParland is being put under no such pressure here in Scotland. Our press, astonishingly, hasn’t written a single word about the judgement at all … and it happened days ago now, and I’ve been deliberately avoiding writing about the story since then because I knew full well that none of them would, that I could return to it today and embarrass them with their silence.

Only one website – that of Johnjames – thought this story worthy of comment.

It was not followed up by a single writer at a Scottish newspaper.

This should not be terribly surprising. I mean , the original judge’s verdict was in 2014, and they didn’t write about this when he was appointed at Ibrox; his time at Bolton and the ensuing drama that surrounds it has been airbrushed from his history as if it never happened.

Look at his profile on the Sevco website if you don’t believe me; his entire career is laid out there, but the Bolton part is missing, like a hole in a wall someone’s hung a picture over. Did our hacks not know he’d been there? Do they not have Lexus Nexus?

I could believe it, you know. I could believe they simply swallowed a Sevco press release when he was appointed and got all their knowledge of the man from that. I was wholly ignorant of it myself, but then I don’t self-define as a journalist. Somewhere, somebody, in some news room in Scotland must have remembered this case.

Still, give them the benefit of the doubt as to the past coverage. Even then, they can’t, surely, be impervious to the wall of noise emanating out of England on this matter at the moment can they? It’s been a headline story in every newspaper and blog down there. Sammy Lee, branded a liar by a court, after the scandal that’s already engulfed Allardyce. In every one of those reports Frank McParland is named as one of his co-conspirators.

Instead of this, you know what The Daily Record’s “highlight of the week” was?

A re-tread of an ancient lunacy; that Donald Trump, instead of being the US President Elect, could have been the owner of Rangers. A story so toe-curling, so embarrassing, so shriekingly awful, I actually thought it was a spoof when someone first sent it to me. But of course, it wasn’t. This was The Record at its worst … or its finest, if you like. They redefine the word ridiculous to the extent that my first thought on reading it was that The Clumpany should hang up his pen, because there’s no more ground left to till in parodying these folks.

Our media is a fully-fledged disgrace and this has been another abysmal week for them, a week which shames them in every way.

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