We checked with a few people on this one to make sure it wasn’t just us. Today’s Herald carries a story – by Magnus Gardham, no less – that on first glance sounds like good news for supporters of independence. But on closer inspection, it’s an incoherent jumble of word-noise that contradicts itself almost every paragraph. We honestly don’t have a clue what they’re up to over there.
Here’s the story, as an image so you don’t have to go to the site. Click bigger.
We start off with an unequivocal headline and opening paragraph: the Bank Of England HAS, past tense, given “technical assistance” to the Scottish Government about the retention of Sterling in an independent Scotland.
The next paragraph notes that a “Government” (presumably Scottish) “report” on the subject is going to be issued “within the next few weeks”, implying that it will be based on the results of said technical discussions.
Paragraph 3 sets up the backstory of the BoE previously denying any such talks had taken place, but then things go a bit weird. The quote the Herald cites in support of its headline simply doesn’t do any such thing. It says the BoE “stands ready” to provide technical assistance, not that it’s already done so.
Paragraphs 7 and 8 then put a bomb under the whole story, noting that the Bank (and Scottish Government) had refused Freedom of Information requests to release the very information the Herald claims it’s just released, (while providing no evidence for it having done so). And then paragraph 9 attaches the tin lid, by blithely reiterating the very thing that the story’s just explicitly told us hasn’t happened.
This, readers, is how conspiracy theories get started. Because it’s all but impossible to construct a plausible explanation for how this labyrinthine shambles of incomprehensibility could ever have come to be. We’re not talking about a careless typo or a subbing oversight here – the entire premise of the story is something that nobody could possibly have arrived at from the published content, because the content says the exact opposite of not just the headline, but also the rest of its own text.
For all our frequent criticisms of him, Mr Gardham is a highly experienced journalist, and as far as we know the Herald still employs sub-editors. This story can’t have just happened like this by accident, because for it to do so would have required it to be written by two different people operating on the basis of Chinese whispers who never spoke to each other or saw the other’s contribution.
Is it an elephant trap designed to make “cybernats” look foolish by having them spread it reflexively across social media based on the headline alone? Is it simply an attempt to make political coverage so bewildering to the average reader that people will turn off entirely as the No camp’s case starts to collapse? Because we’re sure the Herald’s staff can’t be allowed to turn up at work THAT drunk.