So was I. If there are issues that go to the credibility of the author, then it follows by corollary there are issues that go the credibility of the book. (I have appended the statement in full at the bottom of this piece to allow you make up your own minds).
Anyway, first, here is a think piece I wrote for this morning's paper. And beneath it is the statement issued by the publisher today:
There are times when stories crop up in print that seem just too good to be true. The scurrilous story surrounding Liam Lawlor’s death in Moscow. The unfounded allegations carried by Magill in 2002 that Mary Harney had accepted cash from a businessman. And of course Corkman Denis ‘Starry’ O’Brien’ claims that he gave Bertie Ahern £30,000 in the car park of the Burlington Hotel in 1991.
All of those stories had one common feature. They weren’t true.
And as yesterday’s amazing and frankly farcical events unfolded, you sensed that another story is about to join that growing list – the claim that a serving government minister was a regular snorter of cocaine.
The claim is made in Delaney Wilson book High society and then buttressed in the RTE series of the same name, though the minister is demoted and is now merely described Robert the Politician.
But from the moment Delaney Wilson aired the claim in public, there has been considerable scepticisms about it.
To be frank, journalists and politicians alike have simply not believed that a Government minister moseyed across the road from Leinster House to Buswells Hotel and admitted to a journalist (with whom he was not familiar) that he was a regular user of cocaine. And all the while, she was recording this and taking down contemporaneous notes.
The holes and contradictions of how this purported interview took place have reached almost cartoonish proportions in the past 48 hours.
And what it unusual and perturbing is that the RTE has found itself skating on very thin ice indeed when it comes to standing up the claims; and being honest and forthcoming about the information it has at its disposal.
The documentary series itself was appalling television. Not one ‘real life’ cocaine user or dealer was accessed on screen. The approach taken was to reconstruct everything using actors. There is a difficulty with this. You just don’t know what is real. We are given an assurance that everything is true but have to take Justine Delaney Wilson’s word for it. And everything that we see is based on information that is anonymous; unsubstantiated and unverifiable. How do we verify if a pilot or a judge or a politician took cocaine? We can’t.
Surely, it would not have been too hard to find a few former cocaine users who would be willing to talk openly – for example, a well-known male socialite, Gavin Lambe Murphy, and an Irish Independent journalist, Ian O’Doherty, have both publicly admitted that they snorted cocaine in the past.
But the central difficulty was her claim about the Minister, the one that most people zeroed in on. For weeks, journalists have been asking RTE questions about this claim.
In its response, RTE stated that it had “access to the body of material gathered by Ms Delaney Wilson, including listening to taped interview material.”
The clear impression that most journalists took from that was that the interview with the minister was taped. And RTE did nothing to disabuse newspapers which interpreted it that way last weekend. That’s why the station was accused of misleading yesterday. The response to this from Kevin Dawson, the commissioning editor of factual programmes was puzzling: RTE, in defending confidential relationships, he said, had “to be relatively economical in terms of what is said.”
Really? Why? Even if it had the effect of misleading journalists to interpret a statement incorrectly and not have it corrected.
As Sean O’Rourke put it in his remarkably tough interview with Dawson yesterday, the full story had to be beaten out of RTE.
And that was that there was no tape.
And when O’Rourke played a clip of an interview with Delaney Wilson from October 4 – where she said she recorded the interview with the minister and retained the recording – that’s when the alarm bells started to go off.
It was “troubling”, admitted Dawson. It was more than that. It undermined (fatally) the credibility of the claim. And Gill and Macmillan will also have to explain its comments to the Sunday Times on October 28, when a spokeswoman said that the publisher and its lawyers have listened to a recording of the interview with the minister and have kept two copies of this tape.
And then, to cap it all, Delaney Wilson issued a statement last night through her solicitors in which she claimed that she both recorded the interview and took contemporaneous notes.
And then the gnomic: “I have not retained the digital recording.”
That’s a pity. Because this is another story that just seems too good to be true.
STATEMENT FROM GILL and MACMILLAN LIMITED
Justine Delaney Wilson, The High Society
We wish to respond to press speculation surrounding the publication of
this book and the verification procedures that we undertook to
authenticate the material it contains.
The source materials, as presented to us by the author, were the texts
of the author's interviews with her subjects. Most were in digital audio
form. A minority were in the form of contemporaneous notes taken by the
author in circumstances where she has stated that the subjects did not
consent to be interviewed because of the danger of voice recognition.
Among the interviewees in this latter category was a person described in
the book as Robert, a government minister.
As a condition of publication the author was required to satisfy the
authenticity of the source material. A number of meetings were held over
a twelve-month period, during which a thorough examination of this
material, recorded and transcribed, was conducted by ourselves and our
legal advisors. On the basis of a thorough examination of this material,
we were satisfied that the text of the book was a faithful version of
the interviews. We were also satisfied that the interviews were
authentic and not staged, and that, in the case of the audio material,
the interviewees were at all times aware of being recorded and that
there were no hidden microphones.
However, the author has now admitted, through her own solicitors, that
all subjects were recorded, including the politician. She then formed an
A and B list of these recordings, transcribed the A list and represented
it to us as being the only version of these interviews. The B list was
delivered to us in digital audio form. At no time did we have reason to
believe that there was any audio version of the A list. It was agreed
that, having satisfied ourselves as to the authenticity of the
transcripts, the author would retain them, while we retained the audio
After the book was published, one newspaper made a number of attempts to
force the identity of the minister from the author, called the author's
credentials and personal life into question -- including an allegation
concerning her young child. These attempts grew so intense and
personalised that, on the advice of her own solicitor, the author
destroyed the recordings and transcripts. She did this without any
reference to us or to our lawyers. Had she contacted us, we would have
advised her strongly against this course and arranged to have the
material placed in safe keeping. Instead, we were presented with a fait
accompli. It now emerges that the previously unknown audio recordings,
on which these transcripts were based, were also destroyed.
There are issues of authenticity and issues of credibility. Ironically,
nothing in all this causes us to doubt the veracity of the book as
printed. Were we to do so, we would withdraw it from sale without
hesitation. But on the credibility issue, the author has placed herself
in a completely unsatisfactory position. Once it became public knowledge
that that there was apparently no recording of the politician, only a
transcript, we acknowledged that as being our understanding. We now
know, as of 19 November - a full seven weeks following first publication
- that this was not so.
The pity of all this is that that it was unnecessary. If the author had
been open and frank with us at all times, she would have had nothing to
fear. The evidential value of her source material was and remains
overwhelmingly convincing. The identities of those interviewed and
referred to in the book are known to us and our legal advisors. The
material in the book is true and we continue to stand over it.
As far as the recordings retained by us are concerned, we shall under no
circumstances release these, as they were taken in strictest confidence.
We shall make no further comment on this matter for the moment.