Shall we take a close look at today’s splash in the Times Scotland edition? I think there’s something very wrong with it and that readers aren’t being told the whole story. See what you think. Image
Iran meddling in Scottish elections in a bid to destabilise the UK. Looks bad, eh? The Iranian regime is nasty and, like Russia, has form for stirring the pot. However, true or not, the story as presented here has no place on the front of any newspaper, let alone the Times...
So, what is the source of this story? It’s a report by the Henry Jackson Society, a right-wing think tank and lobbying organisation and written by an academic employed by them called Dr Paul Stott. What are his credentials? Dr Stott is an academic and apparently an expert on
British jihadism who was (and for all I know may still be) a tutor at SOAS. Dr Stott seems problematic. In 2019 he was publicly slapped down by SOAS soas.ac.uk/news/newsitem1… after he tweeted about the rapper Stormzy’s father “doing a runner” and then suggested Stormzy should
be grateful for being brought up by Britain’s welfare state. The tweet drew heavy criticism. middleeasteye.net/news/soas-take…
In a statement SOAS disowned Dr Stott’s comments, saying they “…certainly do not accord with the values of SOAS as an institution. We agree with the criticism that has been expressed that these comments are ill-informed and extremely offensive. We fully understand why
SOAS staff and students, and the wider community, are deeply concerned about statements such as this being made.” So, the source for the Times’ story is a report by an academic whose comments about race have been disowned by his university and who, coincidentally,
has written for the right-wing magazine Spiked. People may draw their own conclusions about Dr Stott’s views and motivations, but of course this doesn’t mean he’s wrong about Iran. What then is the Henry Jackson Society? It’s a far-right think tank funded by …
well, they’d rather not say. Indeed, so secretive is the HJS it pulled funding from two Westminster parliamentary group rather than disclose to the Commons standards watchdog who pays its bills. theguardian.com/politics/2014/…
Henry Jackson Society members past and present have links to the US far-right and to Trump and to anti-Islamic and white supremacy individuals and groups, including Steve Bannon and Breitbart, the Gatestone Institute and the Mercers.
bylinetimes.com/2020/10/26/tru…
HJS is also linked directly into the UK Government. Michael Gove, it will surprise no-one to learn, is a former director of HJS. Both Gove and Priti Patel have been paid thousands of pounds in benefits by HJS, while
the Conservative Government has paid more than £80,000 to HJS for a report on UK connections to Islamic terrorism.
opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocra…
All this money and contacts and ideas going back and forth and yet we don’t know who is funding HJS or what they want. Unless we go digging. bylinetimes.com/2021/03/17/the…
So, lets take stock. We have a report by an academic with some questionable views who is working for a far-right thinktank that won’t say who pays its bills but is connected to anti-Islamists and white supremacists and billionaire funders of the far-right, that has the
ear (and the chequebook) of UK ministers that claims Iran is trying to meddle in Scottish politics. The Times should be aware of all of this yet doesn’t mention a word of it to readers. Not a single caveat. Odd, don’t you think?
This central claim made by Stott MAY BE TRUE and we know that the Iranian government is deeply unpleasant. But even so, we still have no idea from the Times report whether readers should pinch the nose before ingesting the HJS report due to the possibility it may be
a) an exaggeration by right-wingers with the intention of casting shade on the forthcoming Scottish election and thereby the legitimacy of its winners, b) a real and substantial threat to democracy or c) the punchline of a laughably incompetent plot?
The report is presented as de facto credible and any possibility of other motivations for its author and paymaster are not interrogated. Indeed, beyond a mention of Facebook the Times doesn’t appear to triangulate the claims at all.
By any measure this is not good journalism. It should not be on a front page in this form and certainly not anywhere at all without a health warning to readers about its source, the Henry Jackson Society.
What a mess The Times has become.
PS I'm glad so many people have found this useful. The Times and the Henry Jackson Society haven't denied any of it.
In a world so awash with malign disinformation it is vital to our democracy and freedoms that we can learn about events from honest and reliable sources.
It is painfully clear from the 'Iran' story that the capacity of The Times to be that truthful and reliable broker has been deeply compromised. It is not the first time. In recent years the paper has repeatedly and without foundation attacked both Muslims and trans people.
I think of the Times nowadays as being like one of those poor creatures with a parasitic larvae in its brain. It still looks like its old self, but it is doomed to obey awful commands while being eaten from the inside out.
I feel sad for my many former colleagues who know how bad and how dangerous this situation has become but live in fear that dissent will cost them their livelihood. I hope they find courage.

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